This last Monday was the 30th Anniversary of the day that the Skylab Space Station fell to Earth. I remember being a kid when it happened. My dad got me an “Official Skylab Target” T-shirt, which I thought was the greatest thing ever at the time. It was the time when we stopped going out in the evenings to look for that one slow moving star moving across the sky that contained men in pressure suits.
The Indian Ocean and the Australian Shire of Esperance were the main recipients of the airborne wreckage, and showing a fantastic sense of humor, Esperance jokingly fined NASA $400 for littering. The tongue-firmly-in-cheek fine was, of course, never paid. Thus began an interesting saga that came to a culmination this week.
You see, Scott Barley, of California-based Highway Radio, found out about the fine and it fired his imagination. First, he contacted Esperance and found out that the fine had been written off years before. I’ll let Discovery’s Space Disco Blog tell what happened next:
So, using his reach on Highway Radio (you’d hear the DJ’s voice on the I15 when traveling to and from Las Vegas and LA, near the small city of Barstow), he appealed to his listeners to help pay NASA’s fine. Sure enough, he received a healthy response; listeners at home sent a couple of dollars and a local gym pledged that they’d match anyone that sends in a $50 donation, should someone feel generous. Sure enough with the help of small donations from listeners at home, truckers and businesses, the $400 was raised.
That could have been the end of it, but it was not. Barley shipped a check for the $400 to Esperance and that was it for the next two months. Then came the part that I really love. The powers that be in Esperance contacted Barley with an invitation to be the guest of honor at their 30th Anniversary celebration. Not only did they fly him Down Under to attend and put him up, but it was also arranged to have him present the $400 in the form of an oversized check.
In a gesture of goodwill and thanks, Barley has become a representative of the City of Barstow, CA, as the US mayor has signed a document that will twin Barstow and Esperance (both cities with a population of about 14,000). Barley will present the key to the City of Barstow during the celebrations where the 1979 Mayor of Esperance will also be in attendance.
“It came as a joke, but something significant came out of it,” Barley said. “The whole thing has really captured people’s imaginations.”
From now on, in the US city of Barstow and the Australian city of Esperance — where the only similarity used to be their populations — will be united by the fallen US space station 30 years ago. That day, July 13, will be forever known as “Skylab-Esperance Day.”
Even three decades down the line, radio can capture an event and the imagination of listeners to create a community bond where none existed before. Thanks to the power of radio there are now two sister cities, separated by half the globe, that have found common ground and created a relationship. The power of radio continues to create connections, one of the medium’s greatest strengths.