Earth May Have Recaptured a 1960s-era Rocket Booster

by | Nov 15, 2020 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

Earth May Have Recaptured a 1960s-era Rocket Booster
IMAGE: This photograph shows a model of the Surveyor lander. CREDIT: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Earth has captured a tiny object from its orbit around the Sun and will keep it as a temporary satellite for a few months before it escapes again. The cool thing here is that the object is not an asteroid but probably the Centaur upper stage rocket booster that helped lift NASA’s ill-fated Surveyor 2 spacecraft toward the Moon in 1966.

Scientists using the Pan-STARRS1 survey telescope and the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) made the determination.

Per the press release: The Surveyor 2 lunar lander was launched toward the Moon on Sept. 20, 1966, on an Atlas-Centaur rocket. The mission was designed to reconnoiter the lunar surface ahead of the Apollo missions that led to the first crewed lunar landing in 1969. Shortly after lift-off, Surveyor 2 separated from its Centaur upper-stage booster as intended. But control of the spacecraft was lost a day later when one of its thrusters failed to ignite, throwing it into a spin. The spacecraft crashed into the Moon just southeast of Copernicus crater on Sept. 23, 1966. The spent Centaur upper-stage rocket, meanwhile, sailed past the Moon and disappeared into an unknown orbit about the Sun.

More Information

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory press release 

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