Feature

William Pogue, 1930–2014

The astronaut who staged a strike in space

It should have been the adventure of a lifetime. In November 1973, William Pogue and two other astronauts docked at the U.S. space station Skylab, where they would spend the next 84 days—at the time, the longest spaceflight ever. Floating some 270 miles above Earth, the three men had a breathtaking view of the planet. But instead of sitting back and contemplating their place in the universe, “we were just hustling the whole day,” said Pogue. Every waking hour was spent collecting information or making repairs. The astronauts became so frustrated with the nonstop work that they set their tools down halfway through the mission and staged the first and only outer space strike. Ground control quickly eased the schedule, making the rest of the flight more relaxed and conducive, Pogue said, to “studying the sun, the earth, and ourselves.”

Born in Okemah, Okla., Pogue wanted to be a pilot from an early age and bought his first flying lesson when he was just 14 years old, said FloridaToday.com. He joined the Air Force after graduating from Oklahoma Baptist University and was soon flying fighter-bombers over Korea. In 1966 Pogue was selected as a NASA astronaut, and in 1973 he was appointed pilot for the third and final mission to Skylab. Five days after arriving at the space station, he embarked on a six-hour spacewalk, said the Tulsa World. “Looking back,” he said in 1985, “it almost seems like something that didn’t really happen to me.”

Back on Earth, Pogue jettisoned the heroic image attached to the first generation of astronauts “in favor of a more regular-guy model,” said The New York Times. He spoke openly of the dull realities of space travel, including the nausea and headaches that kicked in several hours after eating a meal—“the Skylab astronauts called it ‘space crud,’” he wrote in a children’s book titled How Do You Go to the Bathroom in Space?, which also answered that question in detail. Pogue worked as a consultant for aerospace firms, telling interviewers he was especially proud to have helped improve the design of spacecraft toilets, showers, and motion-sickness bags.

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