Known as Skylab, the first space station was designed as a complete workshop for scientific research while in orbit. During its time circling Earth in space things such as the effects of weightlessness on the human body were studied.
The project represented so much in terms of advancing deep space exploration that NASA threw itself into bringing the project forward and to life. This meant the bulk of their resources and planning were spent figuring out how to get the space station into orbit. NASA did not plan on how they would gracefully bring Skylab back down to Earth when it eventually did re-enter into the Earth’s atmosphere. It even went so far as not building any mechanism for steering it when it fell to Earth, it was thought that planning how to bring it down safely would cost way too much.
In 1978 the lack of planning became very apparent when NASA engineers realized Skylab was going to come crashing down earlier than expected. The space station had suddenly become a 77-ton loose cannon. Congress demanded that NASA explain how they were going to ensure the space station did not fall to the ground without causing massive human casualties.
They revealed a plan to attach a booster onto the space station that would give it an extra five years of orbit time, and then it would never re-enter. NASA planned to keep it as a shell in what is known as the space junkyard. But funding problems caused this new project to never see the light of day.
In 1979, NASA fired off the remaining station’s booster carefully to ensure the space station would fall into the Indian ocean. They did come very close, but in fact, it crashed into Western Australia. Luckily the area was not very populated and there were no casualties. Newspapers started to offer Skylab Insurance as a joke as NASA could not predict when and where it was going to fall exactly, one newspaper put up a $10,000 reward for the first person who bought a piece of Skylab to their office within 72 hours. They believed this was a pretty safe bet as it was not falling anywhere near their continent.
One young boy in Western Australia woke up to a massive commotion on the day of the crash, and without thinking grabbed some charred pieces from his backyard. He then jumped on a plane without a suitcase, passport or anything! And made the 72-hour deadline with time to spare, the newspaper paid out on the bet, making him quite rich for the time!