Skylab was the first American space station, developed as part of the Apollo Applications Program to use up surplus hardware after the last moon landing. Nine astronauts visited the station as part of three missions, all occurring between 1973 and 1974. These represented America's first real experience with long-duration spaceflight and paved the way for later space stations. Skylab reentered the Earth's atmosphere in 1979 and combusted.
Skylab nearly failed before it ever became operational. The station was damaged during launch, when a meteorite shield was torn away and its solar panels also sustained damage. The first manned mission to the station had to perform elaborate and unprecedented spacewalk repairs in order to make the station habitable and restore enough power to render it operational. During the repair process, the solar panel deployed suddenly, shaking both spacewalking astronauts from the station's surface. Fortunately, their safety tethers kept them from drifting off into space.
While Skylab's last mission ended in 1974, the station continued to orbit the Earth for years afterward. Originally, the Space Shuttle was intended to make Skylab one of its first stops, replenishing the station's supplies and boosting it into a more stable orbit. Unfortunately, delays in the Shuttle program pushed its initial launch date back too far to rescue the ailing station, and Skylab fell to Earth over Australia less than two years before Columbia's first flight.