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Skylab was NASA’s underdog — a cobbled-together  program that lived in the shadow of the Apollo moon landings. But with the last of those moon landings completed in December of 1972, it was finally Skylab’s time to shine.

That is, until launch. Now the eighty-ton space station is in orbit, but it’s badly damaged — possibly uninhabitable. And the timing couldn’t be worse. With America in the midst of a recession, politicians’ patience for NASA’s huge budgets is wearing thin. If Skylab turns out to be a two billion dollar boondoggle, it could set the entire American space program back decades.

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