A space station fell to Earth. An Australian boy brought it to San Francisco
NASA's abandoned space station, Skylab, was about to fall back down to the Earth that launched it, and no one knew where it might land. With the country's interest in space already waning, diminished budgets and a delay in construction of a shuttle needed to refuel it, the only solely American-owned space station in history was left derelict, and would eventually fall back to Earth. To understand why a 17-year-old Australian beer hauler flew halfway around the world on a Learjet with a pocket full of space junk and only the shirt on his back, you need to know a little bit about the late 1970s San Francisco newspaper rivalries. Papers were still thriving in 1979, and in the adjoined newsrooms of the San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Examiner at 5th and Mission, the city's two major publications were competing for every last reader. To cash in on the global media frenzy around Skylab, the Chronicle was readying a front cover announcing they would pay any reader $200,000 "Injury insurance" should they be hit by part of the falling space station. Forty journalists met Thornton at San Francisco International, a remarkable amount of attention even the San Francisco Chronicle couldn't ignore - though the paper that had lost the space race took the opportunity to deem his bag of space debris "Something of an anticlimax." Article continues below this ad. If the organic matter was from the space station, NASA had one interesting theory as to how organic matter could have come from the space station and landed on Stan's shed.