7.28.1973 – Skylab 3 Mission Commences

    It appeared that manned space flight  was in its golden age during  the Nixon presidency, as all but three manned space flights of the Apollo program were completed during President Nixon’s first term. Yet another NASA initiative was launched during RN’s second term: the Skylab program.

    On this day in 1973, three astronauts Alan L. Bean, Jack R. Lousma, and Owen K. Garriot began a 59 day mission to perform scientific experiments in the areas of medical activities, solar observations, and Earth resources aboard the first American space station.

    The mission logged a total of 1,804.7 astronaut-utilization hours–the longest journey beyond the atmosphere of Earth recorded at the time.

    Following the splashdown of the Skylab 3 crew, President Nixon relayed a message to the astronauts:

    ‘By your scientific endeavor and your physical endurance, you have converted a space vehicle into a repository of more scientific knowledge than mankind can immediately consume. In doing so, you have provided the basis for a quantum jump in human knowledge.

    CBS coverage of Skylab 3 launch.

    NASA video of  the second manned mission to Skylab, the first American space station, called “A Scientific Harvest.”

    More Photos of the Skylab 3 Mission:

    Skylab73 - 1

    Skylab73 - 2

    Skylab73 - 3

    Skylab73 - 4

    Skylab73 - 5

    Nikolai Podgorny, Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, offered his congratulations to President Nixon following another successful American Space excursion.

    roll 8931271

      Another Lunar Anniversary

        July 20th was the forty-fifth anniversary of the very first moon landing, but this milestone was only a small part of the extensive success of the Apollo program, most of which was carried out during President Nixon’s presidency. The program was proposed by Canadian engineer Owen Maynard in September 1967 and dedicated to fulfilling President Kennedy’s national goal of landing a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s. It remains the only human spaceflight program to involve direct access to the moon: during the course of six total moon landings, twelve men have walked on the moon’s surface.

        Apollo Moon Landing Spots

        The locations and Apollo mission numbers of the six moon landings.

        Geologist and lunar scientist Paul D. Spudis recently recalled his experience with the Apollo 15 lunar landing. The 43rd anniversary of Apollo 15 was this Saturday, July 26th. The anniversary of  ought not to be overshadowed by Apollo 11, but celebrated in its own right.

        The mission of Apollo 15, which had the crew spend three days on the Moon, was the fourth lunar landing and one of the most scientifically important. At the time, NASA called it the most successful man flight ever achieved. The chief development of this mission was the use of the Lunar Roving Vehicle, a small cart which transported the astronauts around the surface of the moon. For the first time, humans could not only walk on the moon, but drive on it. The “moon buggy” traveled 27.8 km, slightly longer than the LRV of the Apollo 16 mission and shorter than that of Apollo 17. All three LRVs remain on the surface of the moon.

        James Irwin and LRV

        Lunar Module Pilot James Irwin with the Lunar Roving Vehicle

        Spudis remembers the extensive scientific training which the three astronauts, David Scott, James Irwin, and Alfred Worden, underwent in the field of geography. This knowledge was essential for this particular mission, since they landed on one of the most complicated spots on the moon’s surface, the rim of the Imbrium impact basin. This rim was near the lunar Mt. Hadley, part of the lunar Apennine Front.

        Apollo 15 East Landing Site

        Looking east from the landing site.

        Observing the Apollo 15 astronauts studying the geology of the moon inspired Spudis to pursue the field for himself. He claims, from personal experience, that one of the most important reasons to continue the human spaceflight program is its sheer intellectual and academic worth. President Nixon frequently showed his support for the Apollo missions, ventures which inspired thousands of students of all ages, like Spudis, throughout the early 1970s. Our enduring interest and excitement in outer space remains one of the most profound legacies of the Nixon administration.

          One Month, Two Journeys, and What People Said About Them


            This month marks the anniversaries of two of the greatest events of President Nixon’s first administration. 43 years before this July 15th, President Nixon announced his intention to visit China – a dramatic beginning of one of the most important diplomatic ventures of the twentieth century. 45 years before this July 20th, the astronauts of the Apollo 11 mission took one great leap for mankind – the lunar landing mission accomplished, as President Kennedy had promised, “before the end of this decade.”

            Today, public opinion hails both the journey to China and the journey to the moon as among the proudest accomplishments in American history. The risks which both ventures entailed have paid off for future generations. The Shanghai Communique led to a more open relationship which now benefits both American and Chinese societies. The Apollo missions made technology such as the computer chip commercially available.

            At the time, however, people across the globe delivered an enormous range of opinions to the White House in letters and telegrams. The letters ranged from eloquent to tactless, from celebratory to condemning. Altogether, they provide a fascinating portrayal of the world in 1969 and 1971.

            Italian Rainbows and a Circus Blessing

            The President received many letters of approval concerning the China initiative – not just from American citizens, but from a diverse array of people abroad. Improved relationships between the USA and China would lessen tensions throughout the world.


            The former mayor of Florence, Giorgio La Pira, offered his succinct and lyrical approval in this July 17 telegram.


            A hopeful July 17 telegram from Paula Busch, director of the Berlin Circus.


            In this July 17 telegram, Australian activist J. B. Webb’s pun refers to the famous Chinese economic and social campaign.


            A July 17 telegram from Asian-American business entrepreneur, Chin Nho.

            Over the Moon With Praise

            Americans and foreign people sent President Nixon a stream of admiring letters in the wake of the first successful moon landing.


            A proud July 20 letter from a naturalized citizen, Thaddeus A. Zagorewicz.


            This July 20 letter of congratulations from the mayor of San Salvador, Jose Napoleon Duarte, takes a political turn. He refers to the “Soccer War” which was just breaking out between El Salvador and Honduras at this time.

            ApolloLetter3 ApolloLetter4

            A sweet July 12 letter and drawing from Biagio and Frank Arangio from Florida.

              Distinguished Service Medal: General John P. McConnell


                President Nixon presents the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal to General John P. McConnell, July 17 1969.

                The Air Force Distinguished Service Medal recognizes exceptional meritorious achievements in a duty of great responsibility. General John P. McConnell, who began his military career with the Air Force under the Army Air Corps (later Army Air Forces) and retired as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and chief of staff to the U.S. Air Force, achieved the merits of exceptional duty.

                On July 17 1969, President Nixon presented the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal to General McConnell, stating that “on this occasion we think of the service he has rendered, in war and in peace.”

                That service included 40 years in the Air Force, serving in key positions in Europe and Asia. During World War II, General McConnell was chief of staff of the China-Burma-India Air Force and later a senior air staff member at Air Command Southeast Asia. He participated in aerial operations against the Japanese in Burma.

                After serving a year as Senior Air Adviser to the Chinese government in 1946, General McConnell became Chief of the Reserve and National Guard Division. A year later, he was appointed Chief of the Air Force’s Civilian Components Group. In 1950, he began his time in Europe, traveling to England to serve as Deputy Commander and subsequently Commander of the Third Air Force.

                He returned to the United States and assumed a four-year tour as Director of Plans at the Headquarters of SAC, Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. During his time there, General McConnell was promoted to Commander of SAC’s Second Air Force and later to Vice Commander in Chief.

                The General once again returned to Europe serving as Deputy Commander in Chief of the United States European Command in 1962. It was then that he was promoted to General of four-star rank.

                In August of 1964, General McConnell was appointed Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force and shortly after assumed his position as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force. He served in this capacity until his retirement in July of 1969, upon which President Nixon found this occasion to honor General McConnell.

                The President emphasized General McConnell’s service in peace, believing that his “whole life, his service in the Joint Chiefs…bears out what General Twining once said, that if our air forces are never used, they have served their finest purpose.”

                And that is what General McConnell served his country for, in the duty of great responsibility for maintaining U.S. military strength, and “maintaining it for peace.”  

                  Honoring the Apollo 11 Mission


                    Apollo XI aims skyward into the realm of heavens, July 16 1969.

                    Apollo 11 Launch

                    Following the successful Translunar Injection of Apollo 11 as it exited Earth’s orbit, President Nixon released a proclamation calling for a National Day of Participation Honoring the Apollo 11 Mission, to be observed on July 21 1971.

                    The proclamation, below, reads:

                    roll 8931111
                    roll 8931113

                    The President’s decision to issue this proclamation came at the recommendation of former NASA astronaut Colonel Frank Borman. In a July 12 option memo, Borman strongly recommended the concept of having the President issue a statement shortly after the launch, wishing the astronauts well on their journey to the moon. President Nixon ultimately

                    The option memo, which also lists other recommendations for the President on “Launch Day,” can be read below:

                    roll 8931102

                    Colonel Borman followed up his July 12 recommendation with one two days later, proposing that the Star Spangled Banner not be played in conjunction with the planned split screen television presentation while the crew was on the lunar surface. It so happened that the country’s national anthem was not played during the television broadcast, demonstrating President Nixon’s confidence in Colonel Borman’s expert opinion.

                    roll 8931083

                    It was only fitting then, that President Nixon watched the Apollo 11 launch with Colonel Borman in his little office at the White House.


                    Colonel Frank Borman joins President Nixon while the two watch the launch of Apollo 11.


                      The New Nixon Archives

                      Join Our Email Newsletter