Get Out Your Skylab Repellent

Get out your Skylab repellent!

With the impending crash of a Chinese rocket sometime today, I’m reminded of the Skylab “incident” from my childhood.

Remember that?

It was July of 1979, and the whole country was waiting to see where Skylab, the first successful space station, would crash to Earth. It had been launched by the United States just six years earlier and had successfully housed astronauts for extended periods of time, but after unexpectedly high sunspot activity, it began to deteriorate and eventually, came crashing to Earth, raining debris on the Indian Ocean and Australia. No one was injured by the falling debris.

But in the lead-up to the “event,” enterprising people all over the country cashed in. My parents wouldn’t let me waste my money on it, but at twelve years old, I sure wanted to buy a can of Skylab Repellent. It was a joke, of course, but people really bought it. There were also t-shirts depicting a “Skylab Protection Device,” featuring an umbrella with a satellite dish on top. I’m not sure how that was supposed to protect someone, but OK.

Everyone was wondering aloud where Skylab would fall to Earth, and kids like me were terrified we would be squashed by it. No one was squashed.

In the aftermath of the Skylab crash, people continued to cash in, selling t-shirts declaring, “I Survived Skylab.” Cha-ching! Cha-ching! That was the sound of dollars hitting their bank accounts, because I feel pretty sure they sold quite a few of those gimmicky shirts. And after that? I don’t know what happened to all those t-shirts, but I haven’t seen one in person in years. I’ve seen a few on eBay, but I don’t know anyone who actually has one. Maybe they are locked in trunks in people’s houses. Most of them were pretty crude designs, so they’d look silly today. Maybe people are embarrassed they actually spent money on them. Or maybe they all just got lost along the way.

I haven’t seen any of that entrepreneurial spirit about the Chinese rocket. I guess, these days, we are all too jaded by 24-hour news to get interested in much. If you’ve seen anyone selling rocket repellent or t-shirts, let me know.

Of course, we don’t have any idea how much of the Chinese rocket will actually make it back to Earth. Some of it will surely disintegrated on re-entry into the atmosphere, but pieces of it could still fall. The chances of you or anyone you know or love being in its path? Let’s just say it’s not very likely. It’s not something to worry about, and if it does fall on you, you won’t even know what hit you…literally.

My Favorite Martian

My Favorite Martian.

Yesterday, the NASA Mars rover, Perseverance, landed on the red planet. I was slightly intrigued, but not nearly as interested as I would have been if it had happened in the 1970s. In the 1970s, Americans were obsessed with Mars, Unidentified Flying Objects, Martians, aliens, and Skylab. Remember Skylab? Remember folks making a quick buck on Skylab repellent when we knew the orbiter was going to be falling back to earth, crash-landing somewhere?

Skylab was the first United States space station, launched in May of 1973. Six years later, in 1979, its orbit began to decay, and NASA could no longer communicate with the satellite. I was 12 at the time, and while we awaited the “crash,” I was truly concerned Skylab would cut my life short when it fell to earth. I felt sure I would die without ever having kissed a boy. Kids in the neighborhood were talking about it, and I was terrified. My parents tried to tell me the odds of that happening were very minute, but when you’re 12…it’s scary, especially when people are selling Skylab repellent, even as a joke. Skylab came “crashing” to earth in July 1979…ultimately disintegrating over Esperance, Australia, where residents saw bright lights and heard sonic booms before finding debris from the space station spread over their town.Once I heard it had fallen in Australia, I could relax, and I desperately wanted one of those t-shirts announcing “I survived Skylab.” I didn’t get one…I’m sure my parents thought it would be a ridiculous waste of money, but I sure wish I had one now…just as a silly souvenir.

Today, with the landing of Perseverance on Mars, people are talking about Martians again. “What if we hear whispers from Mars?” “What if we see alien beings on the red planet?” It’s enough to make a 12-yr-old kid worry, right?

I spent my entire childhood looking for UFOs in the sky. We heard about them from every angle, including The Brady Bunch. Remember when Greg tricked Bobby and Peter into thinking a UFO was flying past their house? Remember the chaos it created?

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a UFO, but when I was six or seven, the local high school had its annual bonfire. I don’t even really know what happened, but maybe a helicopter flew nearby? Who knows? It had to be 1973 or 1974, when UFO talk was at its peak. Someone at the bonfire made me think there was a UFO in the vicinity. To me, at that age, “UFO” meant alien spaceship ready to land, kidnap me, and probe my belly button to learn more about the human race. I was terrified. I ran to my friend’s mother’s car as fast as I could and jumped into the backseat. I don’t even know what happened after that. She took me home, but I truly believed there had been an alien spaceship at the bonfire…hovering over TR Miller High School, in Brewton, Alabama. Hmmm…why would an alien spaceship want a small child from Brewton, Alabama? Short answer: no alien spaceship wants a kid from Brewton. No offense to the kids from Brewton, but if I’m landing an alien spaceship somewhere, it’s more likely to be in the desert in Arizona or somewhere…not small town Alabama.

Adding to my personal belief in alien beings was the TV show called My Favorite Martian. I don’t even know how I watched it, since it premiered in 1963 (four years before I was born) and only ran for three seasons…in reruns, I guess…probably after school. My Favorite Martian starred Bill Bixby as Tim O’Hara and Ray Walston as “Uncle Martin,” or the Martian anthropologist who crash-landed on Earth and was rescued and taken in by O’Hara. I don’t remember a lot about the show itself, but now that I have it on my mind, I plan to watch a few episodes on Amazon Prime. Yep, if you’ve never seen it or if you liked it back in the day, you can watch it free with your Amazon Prime membership. I’ve actually watched the first episode and found it rather entertaining. Just be forewarned…it’s filmed in black and white. Also, the first episode has some racy references about “a man’s metabolism.” Who knew?

Of course, seeing Ray Walston in My Favorite Martian made me think about Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Yes, this is how my brain works…from Skylab to Fast Times at Ridgemont High…it’s why I’m good at Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. (Not familiar with Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon? It’s a game based on the premise that we are all separated by six degrees of separation or fewer. In the “Kevin Bacon” version, participants try to find connections between Bacon and another famous person in six steps or fewer.) Walston was awesome in Fast Times. I don’t know if his character, Mr. Hand, a history teacher at Ridgemont High, would be very interested in the Perseverance landing on Mars, but surely he would recognize it as a significant historical event.

It is an historical event, indeed, even though the people of our country don’t seem nearly as excited about it as we have seemed about other NASA missions. I guess we have all been conditioned to it by now. And while I don’t find it particularly interesting, I will be listening for news of life on the red planet…life that’s bigger than an amoeba.