In 1979, a chunk of Skylab brought a whole new meaning to “world piece.”

The United States’s first human-hosting orbital laboratory, Skylab, was launched into orbit in 1973. By 1978, however, the station was showing its age. Its equipment was in need of repair. Greater-than-expected solar activity had heated the outer layers of Earth’s atmosphere, increasing the drag on the station. Skylab was decaying, and so was its orbit. Fueled in part by the 1978 crash of a Soviet satellite in Canada, fears began to mount that the American station could descend into the Earth’s atmosphere, breaking apart at an unplanned location and shooting metallic debris over populated areas. And the fears quickly turned into mockery. A hotel in North Carolina designated itself an “official Skylab crash zone,” holding a poolside disco party to celebrate the status. T-shirt designers began selling garments with bulls-eyes printed on them. Other entrepreneurs sold cans of “Skylab repellent” and, in case that proved ineffective, “Skylab insurance.”  The space station that had been launched in the name of progress had, all of the sudden, become “a 77-ton loose cannon.”

– By Megan Garber

Click here to continuing reading this article, courtesy of The Atlantic and discover how Skylab’s fall in the Australian outback became part of the 1979 Miss Universe pageant, as one of the most famous pieces of space debris to fall out of the sky.

Image Caption: Skylab — a piece of it, anyway — plays a supporting role at the pageant (Credits: Naa.gov.au).