On December 28, 1973, the crew of Skylab 4 went on strike, shutting off radio communications with NASA ground control to protest their grueling working conditions.
The three astronauts—Gerald Carr, William Pogue, and Edward Gibson—left Earth on November 16, 1973, and almost immediately began to fall behind NASA’s demanding schedule of experiments and space walks.
About a month into the mission, they began to voice their complaints. The mission was like “a 33-day fire drill,” Gibson told mission control. “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.”
“There is no way we can do a professional job,” Pogue said; “We’re pressed bodily from one point of the spacecraft to another with no time for even mental preparation.”
Officially, the astronauts were allowed a a day off every 10 days, but worked through these days in an effort to complete their tasks. “It was almost to the point where you almost had to schedule a time when you could go to the bathroom, it was that tightly scheduled,” Carr recalled.
They also simply wanted time to experience the awe of spaceflight. Pogue later said that, once in space, he became “much more inclined toward humanistic feeling toward other people, other crewmen…I try to put myself into the human situation, instead of trying to operate like a machine.” In his obituary, the New York Times reported that “he and the others just wanted more time to look out the window and think.”
Once they resumed communications, the crew made their demands to mission control: “I said, ‘We need more time to rest. We need a schedule that’s not quite so packed,'” Car later reported. “‘We don’t want exercise after a meal anymore. We need to get the pace of things under control.’”
Negotiations resulted in an agreement. For the remainder of the mission, the crew would have mealtimes and evenings free. Instead of being tied to a strict schedule, the astronauts were given a list of jobs to be completed as they saw fit. “It worked beautifully,” Carr later said. “It turns out, when the mission was over, we completed every one of the experiments that we needed to do.”
Image: Pogue (left) and Carr pass trash through an airlock to Skylab’s waste disposal tank (February 1,1974)