Launched in 1969, it was lost in space and reappeared near Earth in 2002

The mysterious 33-year journey through space of a part of the Apollo 12 mission rocket

Space exploration is a world dominated by science and technology, but sometimes things happen that border on the world of mystery.

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On November 14, 1969, NASA launched the Saturn V rocket (the SA-507) of the Apollo 12 mission, the second NASA flight to land on the Moon. This rocket, like others from NASA, was made up of several phases that separated at the time of launch.

The Saturn V rocket from NASA's Apollo 12 mission (Photo: NASA).

In order to prevent space debris from accumulating that could cause problems for subsequent launches, the third stage of the rocket, called S-IVB, was scheduled to end up in a heliocentric orbit in which it should have spent perhaps thousands of years circling the sun. But something went wrong in the trajectory of that phase and it ended up being lost in space.

The launch of the NASA Apollo 12 mission (Photo: NASA).

Many years later, on September 3, 2002, William Kwong Yu Yeung, an amateur astronomer of Chinese origin and resident of Canada, discovered an object that was named J002E3. The object did not correspond to parts of any recent space mission. At first it was thought that it would be a rock of about 30 meters, but an analysis by the University of Arizona ended up determining that the surface of that object corresponded to that of a Saturn V rocket, such as those used by NASA between 1967 and 1973.

The third stage of the Saturn V rocket from the Apollo 17 mission, the same as the S-IVB stage that was lost in space in November 1969 (Photo: NASA).

And how come a part of an ancient rocket had turned up there decades after its launch? The most likely scientific explanation given to the mystery of the J002E3 object is that it possibly left the vicinity from Earth in 1971 to end up entering an asymmetric orbit around the sun, returning to the vicinity of Earth in June 2002, two months before being discovered. Its trajectory has led it to exchange orbits between the Earth and the Sun for long periods of time. J002E3 is estimated to orbit the Earth again in the mid-2040s.

A few months ago, the channel Primal Space published an interesting video analyzing what happened with the object J002E3 from its launch until its reappearance in Earth orbit:

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