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Skylab

In July 1979, people began to stare nervously at the sky. After six years in space, Skylab, the orbiting US space laboratory, was due to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere, but no one knew exactly where the 77 tons of equipment would actually ‘land’.

On the evening of 11 July, revellers across the US painted target symbols on their roofs and held ‘The sky is falling’ parties, but eventually went to bed disappointed.

The spacecraft, disintegrating upon re-entry, scattered debris over the Indian Ocean and Australia.

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Most of its molten metal went to a watery grave, but up to 1,000 pieces of the giant space station rained down on Australia, mostly in sparsely populated desert areas.

No injuries were reported, although many Australians were miffed about having their country used as a dumping ground for American space junk.

After fears that it might come to earth over Canada or the US, a last radio command was given sending the 118-foot machine on a wobbling course to reduce the friction of the atmosphere and add 40 minutes and a few thousand miles to its life.

Britain’s last chance of being hit was over by 11:00 am but a number of West Country holidaymakers stayed in caves until they were convinced Skylab was down safely.

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