Skylab's demise was an international media event, with merchandising of T-shirts and hats with bullseyes, wagering on the time and place of re-entry, and nightly news reports. The San Francisco Examiner offered a $10,000 prize for the first piece of Skylab delivered to its offices; the competing Chronicle offered $200,000 if a subscriber suffered personal or property damage. NASA calculated that the odds of station re-entry debris hitting any human were 1 to 152 and when multiplied by 4 billion becomes 1 in 600 billion for a specific human, although the odds of debris hitting a city of 100,000 or more were 1 to 7 and special teams were readied to head to any country hit by debris and requesting help.We assume that Skylab is on the planet Earth, somewhere. Charles S. Harlan, Skylab mission controller
In the hours before re-entry, ground controllers adjusted Skylab's orientation to try to minimize the risk of re-entry on a populated area. They aimed the station at a spot 810 miles (1,300 km) south southeast of Cape Town, South Africa, and re-entry began at approximately 16:37 UTC, July 11, 1979.:371 The Air Force provided data from a secret tracking system able to monitor the reentry. The station did not burn up as fast as NASA expected, however. Due to a 4% calculation error, debris landed southeast of Perth, Western Australia,:371 and was found between Esperance and Rawlinna, from 31° to 34°S and 122° to 126°E, about 130–150 km radius around Balladonia. Residents and an airline pilot saw dozens of colorful fireworks-like flares as large pieces broke up in the atmosphere. The Shire of Esperance facetiously fined NASA A$400 for littering, a fine which remained unpaid for 30 years. The fine was paid in April 2009, when radio show host Scott Barley of Highway Radio raised the funds from his morning show listeners and paid the fine on behalf of NASA.
Fragment of Skylab recovered after its re-entry through Earth's atmosphere, on display at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center
Seventeen-year-old Stan Thornton found 24 pieces of Skylab at his home in Esperance. A Philadelphia businessman flew him, his parents, and his girlfriend to San Francisco, where he collected the Examiner prize.:371 In a coincidence for the organizers, the annual Miss Universe pageant was scheduled to be held a few days later, on July 20, 1979 in Perth. A large piece of Skylab debris was displayed on the stage. Analysis of the debris showed that the station had not disintegrated until 10 miles above the Earth, much lower than expected. After the demise of Skylab, NASA focused on the reusable Spacelab module, an orbital workshop that could be deployed with the Space Shuttle and returned to Earth. The next American major space station project was Space Station Freedom, which was merged into the International Space Station in 1993, and launched starting in 1998. Shuttle-Mir was another project, and led to the U.S. funding Spektr, Priroda, and the Mir Docking Module in the 1990s.