On Monday, December 28, 1973 – exactly 42 years ago, three US astronauts went on industrial strike aboard NASA’s Skylab – off in space while orbiting the Earth - according to Los Angeles Times.
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It was a one-day strike staged by mission commander Jerry Carr, science pilot Ed Gibson, and pilot William Pogue who were all away in space on a 84-day science mission studying the Earth, weather, and other planetary bodies while also conducting a number of scientific experiments.
The trio went on strike because NASA was forcing them to work without lunch breaks and longer than they may have been required to work on Earth. Then they rebelled with NASA by switching off their radio link and cutting off communication with ground control on Earth.
"We would never work 16 hours a day for 84 straight days on the ground, and we should not be expected to do it here in space," Carr fired off to Earth.
NASA had instructed them to work for 16 hours each day of the 84-day mission –and their schedules were covered from minute to minute with no time respite. The commanders of the two previous Skylab missions, together with other astronauts on the ground had protested to NASA, saying the schedule was too tight and impossible.
But NASA would not hear, even against the background that the each of the three astronauts on this particular mission had never been to space before or fully acclimated to its conditions. Nearly a month of unreasonable schedule with no rest in space, Pogue became slightly ill but mission control dismissed it as a passing bug or spacesickness.
"We need more time to rest,” Carr wrote to mission control on the ground. “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."
But the response from Houston was for the crew to stick to their schedules; then the crew acted by cutting off their radio link for one full day – spending the day relaxing and taking things easy at their own pace while also having leisure with their own personal projects.
When Skylab restored communication a day later, Houston acceded that the crew could take breaks and have rests while working at their own schedules so long they met their targets and deadlines for the mission.
But when the crew returned to Earth in February after 84 days in space, none of the three was ever allowed to embark on any space missions again. But the space strike registered with labor unions all over the US and struck a chord in employee-employer relationships across workplaces.
"The lessons here are not just for manned space flight, but for any workplace environment that approximates its conditions, whether in space or on Earth," said Samir Chopra of Brooklyn College.
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