Enlarge / The Ixion “space lab” docked to the International Space Station. (credit: NanoRacks)
Even before NASA landed humans on the Moon during the Apollo program, some of its engineers had already begun to consider what to do for an encore. Most agreed that the next logical step was to establish some sort of toehold in low Earth orbit, a kind of space station, in the early 1970s after the Moon landings.
Initially, Wernher von Braun and others at Marshall Space Flight Center pushed the concept of a “wet workshop.”  The plan, devised in 1966, called for launches of two Saturn IB rockets about one day apart. One would have crew, the other would not. Once in orbit, the astronauts would make the S-IVB upper stage of the first, uncrewed rocket habitable by installing life-support equipment in the stage’s hydrogen tank to create a working environment.
This concept became known as the “wet workshop,” because the upper stage would launch full of hydrogen fuel, which would be expended to help the vehicle reach orbit.

Eventually engineers at Johnson Space Center convinced NASA Headquarters that this would prove too challenging and came up with the concept of a “dry workshop,” pre-modifying an S-IVB upper stage on the ground and then launching it without fuel.

Eventually NASA flew three of these Skylab missions in 1973 and 1974.
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