Encyclopedia Astronautica
1974.07.01 - Comet Kohoutek and Skylab


A JSC report summarized Comet Kohoutek's relationship to Skylab operations: Comet Kohoutek was discovered on 7 March 1973, three months before the launch of Skylab. Preliminary feasibility studies indicated that there was insufficient time to send a suitably instrumented spacecraft to observe and study the comet at close range. However, other manned and unmanned observations were planned, with the most significant to occur during the third visit to the orbiting Skylab. Unique scientific data were obtained by the third-visit crew, helping to make Kohoutek the most comprehensively studied comet in history.

Because of the flexibility and adaptability of the manned program, changes were made in the plans for the third visit to Skylab to take additional equipment and film for ultraviolet and visible light photography. Imagery data were obtained with the extreme ultraviolet electronographic camera experiment (S201K) using special film, and a synoptic history of the comet was made with a series of visible light photographs in the Kohoutek photometric photography experiment (S233K). Existing Apollo telescope mount experiments such as white light coronagraph (S052), X-ray spectographic telescope (S054), and extreme ultraviolet and X-ray telescopes (S056) were used to obtain white light photographs and data in the ultraviolet and X-ray spectra. Man was not only an invaluable scientific observer studying a comet for the first time from outside the Earth's atmosphere, he was required as a necessary link in the chain of experiment operations. The Skylab crew sketched the form of the comet and described various colorations, characteristics, and light intensities. Some of the preliminary findings were A sunward spike was discovered that was formed of relatively heavy particles released earlier from the comet. The tail was observed to be extremely long as the comet passed around the Sun, and water vapor within the tail was identified. An increase in the intensity of violet color in the tail was described as the comet went away from the Sun. As data from the third-visit crew's unique observations and measurements were analyzed and correlated with data from unmanned probes and ground observatories, scientific knowledge of the composition and behavior of comets would be increased substantially.

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