The Skylab 4 mutiny, 1973

Skylab 4

A brief account of the 24-hour mutiny during the Skylab 4 mission in 1973/4 triggered by the astronauts' complaints of excessive workloads.

Class war in space - The Skylab 4 mutiny

Skylab 4 was the fourth Skylab mission and placed the third crew on board, consisting of Gerald Carr, commander, William Pogue, pilot and Edward Gibson, science pilot (pictured below in this order left-right). It was each crew member's first space flight. During the mission a total of 6,051 astronaut-utilization hours were tallied performing scientific experiments in the areas of medical activities, solar observations, Earth resources, observation of the Comet Kohoutek and other experiments.

However, the all-rookie astronaut crew had problems adjusting to the same workload level as their predecessors when activating the workshop. One of their first tasks was to unload and stow within Skylab thousands of items needed for their lengthy mission. The schedule for the activation sequence dictated lengthy work periods with a large variety of tasks to be performed. The crew soon found themselves tired and behind schedule.

As the activation of Skylab progressed, the astronauts complained of being pushed too hard. Ground crews disagreed; they felt that the astronauts were not working long enough or hard enough, and insisted the crew work through their meal times as well as their rest days to catch up.

Crewman Pogue explained his frustration with the scheduling of their workload:

You have to put away equipment, you have to debrief, and then you have to move from one position to another, and you have to look and see what's coming up, and we're just being driven to the wall!… There's not enough consideration given for moving from one point in the spacecraft to another and allowing for transition from one experiment to another… When we oppressed bodily from one point in the spacecraft to another with no time for mental preparation, let alone getting the experiment ready, there's no way we can do a professional job! Now, I don't like being put in an incredible position where I'm taking somebody's expensive equipment and thrashing about wildly with it and trying to act like a one-armed paper hanger trying to get started in insufficient time!

Commander Carr tried to reason with mission control, stating that "on the ground, I don't think we would be expected to work a 16-hour day for 85 days, and so I really don't see why we should even try to do it up here."

Six weeks into the mission, this culminated in the crew announcing an unscheduled day off, mutinying by turning off the communications radio while getting some rest.

They reportedly spent their day off relaxing and taking in the panoramic views of Earth from orbit.

Carr then communicated the group's demands: "We need more time to rest. We need a schedule that is not so packed. We don’t want to exercise after a meal. We need to get things under control.’

Eventually, mission control agreed to compromise. Their workload was reduced, schedules altered and the crew given more control over planning.

Pogue recounted that the last six weeks after this were much more enjoyable, allowing them free time for “studying the Sun, the Earth below, and ourselves.”

Initially ground crews attributed the astronauts' complaining to possible lethargy or depression. But the New York Times reported that Pogue said this was incorrect:

He and the others just wanted more time to look out the window and think. The flight had made him “much more inclined toward humanistic feeling toward other people, other crewmen,” he told Science News in 1985. “I try to put myself into the human situation, instead of trying to operate like a machine.”

After they returned, NASA became vindictive, and ensured that none of the crew flew again.

Sources

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Comments

Harrison
Jan 2 2012 14:29

awesome

Sam Buchanan
Jan 3 2012 08:52

Does anybody know the date of this incident? I've always wanted to commemorate it but never found an account that gives a date.

This crew was also noted for growing large beards, which made them look like Cuban revolutionaries, and by much grumbling about their workplace's ghastly 1970s decor - all those brown and orangey colours designed to drive people living in a confined space, albeit in space, up the wall.

Serge Forward
Jan 3 2012 11:17

More details here: starting on page 7

cresspot
Mar 14 2014 05:11

Communism in Space
so amazing

Chilli Sauce
Mar 14 2014 10:54
Steven.
Nov 8 2014 22:47

Just a little bump, as I've made a lot of additions and improvements to the article (the PDF version is now out of date)