|NASA photo, Feb. 1974: "Scientist-astronaut Edward G. Gibson, science pilot for the Skylab 4 mission, demonstrates the effects of zero-gravity as he sails through airlock module hatch."|
On January 21, 1974, Dr. Ed Gibson was hard at work in orbit aboard Skylab, viewing what he characterized as a “moderately active” Sun. He’d been advised what to spot by the previous mission’s science pilot. Gibson wrote in the 1979 NASA publication A New Sun, “[Skylab 3 science pilot] Owen Garriott...had suggested that when a tiny bright point appears on the extreme ultraviolet image of the Sun, it may be an early signal that a flare is beginning.”
Gibson had already logged well over eight weeks in space, and was on his way to becoming one of the world’s long-duration spaceflight champions, but one much-sought-after phenomenon eluded him during his mission: the birth of a solar flare. He hoped that by being able the view a flare from its genesis, “we could find keys to the mechanism by which the Sun releases great quantities of energy from a very small volume in a fraction of a minute.” But if he was not at the Apollo Telescope Mount’s console at the time, or if he started its instruments too late after the flare had already begun, he’d be out of luck, and would’ve perhaps forever missed a unique opportunity.
- Canby, T.Y. (1974, October). Skylab, Outpost on the Frontier of Space. National Geographic, 146(4), 441-469.
- Eddy, J.A. (1979.) A New Sun: The Solar Results From Skylab. Washington, D.C.: NASA, Scientific and Technical Information Branch.