Writer's Guide to Government Information

Resources to inject real life detail into your fiction

Archive for the tag “zero gravity”

Skylab Mission page

Skylab Mission page – http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/skylab/index.html

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What’s involved in creating a working bathroom in zero g?
  • When were the first and last Skylab missions?
  • How did NASA control Skylab when it had no crew?
  • What can you do if your docking thrusters misfire?


Before Mir was Skylab, our low key successor to Apollo. From the website:

Skylab was launched into Earth orbit by a Saturn V rocket on May 14, 1973. Through the use of a “dry” third stage of the Saturn V rocket, the station was completely outfitted as a workshop area before launch. Crews visited Skylab and returned to Earth in Apollo spacecraft.

Three, three-man crews occupied the Skylab workshop for a total of 171 days and 13 hours. It was the site of nearly 300 scientific and technical experiments, including medical experiments on humans’ adaptability to zero gravity, solar experiments and detailed Earth resources experiments.

Skylab was small compared to the Mir and ISS stations. Unlike Mir, Skylab had long periods where it was uninhabited. There were not regular shift changes where one crew handed off the station to another.

The site links to several NASA books that may be useful for establishing station context:

  • Skylab: A Chronology (Includes statistical appendix)
  • Living and Working in Space – Chapter 8 talks about the challenges of a working space toilet.
  • Skylab, Classroom in Space

Photos and video are also available on the site.


International Space Station (ISS) home page

International Space Station (ISS) home page – http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • How does the energy expenditure of reaching Earth orbit compare to that of reaching the surface of Mars?
  • What would a Earth space station astronaut see outside their window?
  • What is the habitable volume of the International Space Station?


The International Space Station has two advantages for writers of outer space stories. It’s an ongoing mission, so there is lots of information about its workings and tasks being done by the various expedition teams. The other advantage is that they have a video archive at http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/videogallery/index.html?collection_id=14555. There is also a live video feed at http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/iss_ustream.html which sometimes shows the view of earth from the Station. Writers wanting to depict weightlessness in a realistic way or to show what crewmembers see out their window just have to point their browser to the archive and start watching.

A note about combining different items to inform yourself. Start up the live video feed. If you see Earth in the window, open a new browser window, load up the ISS home page and then click on “station tracker.” This will launch a java app that will show a zoomable world map. Crank it up to its highest magnification and your map view ought to approximate what is going by the Space Station window. Now you’re oriented.

The web site for the ISS is broken up into into a number of sections:

  • Research & Technology
  • Crew & Expeditions
  • International Cooperation
  • Living & Working
  • Building & Assembly
  • Ground Facilities
  • Images & Videos
  • Facts & Figures
  • News & Media Resources

It may be helpful to comb through the news archives under “Crew & Expeditions.” While it is mostly mission news, there are some really helpful science bits, like Tyranny of the Rocket Equation by Expedition 30/31 Flight Engineer Don Pettit. This article gives a plain English overview of the limits of where rockets can take human beings and specifications about the correct proportions of fuel to payloads.

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