Hundreds of people looking for pieces of the Skylab space station were warned today against radiation, high-pressure gas bottles and getting lost in the Western Australia desert.
Western Australia State Health Minister Ray Young said in a statement, "it is possible that some of the instrumentation or other equipment in Skylab could contain radioactive material, which could be harmful to health if handled or interfered with."
In Washington, however, a spokesman for the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) said the only radioactive material on the spacecraft was in luminous substances on instrument dials and on the Skylab's docking mechanism.
Spokesman Bill O'Donnell said the material would be dangerous only if swallowed or inhaled, but as a precaution anyone finding a Skylab piece should wash his or her hands.
NASA officials said a five-man team was leaving Los Angeles shortly for Sydney to evaluate the Skylab debris, which fell to earth Wednesday.
The team plans to interview people who watched Skylab's fiery descent over the mining town of Kalgoorlie and find out which parts of the craft survived reentry into the earth's atmosphere and reached the ground.
The town council of Kalgoorlie, 400 miles east of Perth, literally rolled out the red carpet as a 6 1/2-by 3 1/4-foot chunk of Skylab was pushed, pulled, shoved and squeezed into the town hall.
Mayor Ray Finlayson said he thought the cylindrical piece of metal was the largest piece of the Skylab space station recovered.
Getting it into the town hall took some effort, but finlayson said it was worth it.
"Very good for the tourist industry," he said.
While Kalgoorlie's townfolk ogled their piece of Skylab, Stan Thorton, 17, left for San Francisco with a tooth-brush, a change of clothes and what he hopes is a handful of Skylab debris.
If the charcoal-like debris that Thorton found in the Backyard of his Western Australia home proves to be from Skylab, he stands to be $10,000 richer for it.
The San Francisco Examiner offered a $10,000 reward to the first person to deliver a piece of Skylab to its offices before 10:08 a.m. Saturday - 72 hours after the space station's fiery crash into the Indian Ocean and parts of Western Australia.
One Sydney travel agency has offered tours to the sites where Skylab fell, and hotels in the area are fully booked. Health officials warned the souvenir hunters that any gas bottles should be handled carefully. Police are worried also that people could get lost in the desert and have warned people against leaving their cars. CAPTION: Picture, Two Australians inspect a huge cylinder that is thought to be the largest piece of Skylab to be recovered. AP