Best Of The Web: The Strange Journey Of Apollo 12’s S-IVB Third Stage


Students of space history will remember that Apollo 12’s most memorable claim to fame was being struck by lightning during the launch phase. Yet the mission carried on was considered a success. Less successful was NASA’s trajectory of the S-IVB third stage. It was supposed to be sent into a distant solar orbit but because of an instrument error, it spun off on a 40-year odyssey that continues yet today. For a time, it was a mystery object that astronomers couldn’t identity until some strategic spectroscopy returned spectra for white titanium paint. Primal Space’s video explains the details.

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  1. As a pilot I never felt much connected to space science, it was just too far away for me, the forces acting upon space vehicles, the technology. The space shuttle, an “airplane” if You will, started to make my brains connect to that world.
    However there is soo much knowledge needed tot even fathom what things like black holes are, I will never master.
    One good friend who was an expert in radar, and worked with NASA, told me very interesting stories about his career, the successes, the blunders, the hilarious parts, it was like a carpenter telling about his life time experiences. Many things of course I did not even get close to understanding….
    I could understand this video! Never heard about the lagrange point however, but clearly it has to be there.

    • The Lagrange point was recently back in the news when the James Webb telescope was launched to that point to remain in a stable orbit that does not go around the earth. Actually, there are two LaGrange points. L1, mentioned in the video is located between the earth and sun, and L2, which is situated on the outside of earth away from the sun. The Webb telescope is positioned at L2 because its sun shield, that protects its delicate instruments from the sun’s radiant heat, also shelters them from the earth’s heat and light. In that position, the telescope orbits the sun, but is perpetually pointed away from the sun through its entire orbit. It also follows the earth through space, remaining at a constant distance from our planet. You are correct, space can be very complicated, and it is especially impressive that the Apollo and shuttle engineers worked most of this out using slide rules!