This is a piece of space debris from the oxygen tank of the Skylab space station. Launched in 1973, Skylab was the first United States space station and the largest such facility built at the time. It was as large as a three-bedroom house and its crew of three were housed there in 1973-1974. A number of space endurance records were made at the time.
In the early hours of 12 July 1979 Skylab, re-entered the earth's atmosphere and broke up scattering debris across the southern Indian Ocean and the south-eastern part of Western Australia. Although the heaviest fragments of the station fell into the Indian Ocean, a large amount of Skylab debris fell in a swath from the coastal town of Esperance to the Nullarbor Plain, beyond the community of Balladonia. One of the pieces that landed on the Nullarbor was a large cylindrical oxygen tank that burst on striking the ground, breaking into two fragments which bounced in different directions. The largest fragment, the main body of the tank, ultimately found its way into the special Skylab collection of the Esperance Museum. The smaller piece, the end cap of the oxygen tank, remained undiscovered until the early 1990s when it was found by a stockman.
The circular lid had landed with its insulated exterior to the ground, so that its curved shape formed a shallow dish that caught rainwater, turning it into a very unusual drinking bowl for the cattle and native animals of the area. In fact, it was seeing animals drinking at a place where there should have been no water available that led to its discovery.
The piece comprises the end cap of the tank which was torn and bent as a result of being ripped away from the rest of the tank. Its exterior is covered by a composite insulation material with a woven fibreglass outer surface.
Skylab was the first large space object to make an uncontrolled re-entry, causing public recognition that space debris was a major international hazard.