The sky is falling: how Skylab became an Australian icon

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    In 1979, the US orbital space station Skylab made a spectacular re-entry that, like the de-orbiting of Mir in 2001, was widely anticipated across the world. As it disintegrated, debris from the spacecraft fell around the towns of Esperance and Balladonia in Western Australia. The Shire of Esperance, tongue-in-cheek, fined the United States Government for littering. While in orbit, the space station was largely invisible. In its re-entry, however, the disembodied spacecraft became tangible, visible, and collectible, in the form of its widely scattered and charred remains. Anyone could own a piece of space if they wanted; the debris was both space junk and a precious artefact. Through these local and personal interventions after its decay, the social significance of Skylab came to outweigh its historic significance and it passed into popular consciousness as a rare Australian space icon. In this article I consider how the parts of Skylab became more than the sum of the whole.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)529-546
    Number of pages18
    JournalJournal of Australian Studies
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2011


    • Australian icons
    • Australian technology
    • Skylab
    • Space junk
    • Space station


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