Science: Space Watch's First Catch

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Strayed Capsule. In the Discoverer series, the Air Force's purpose is to fire a satellite into polar orbit, then bring it back by firing a retrorocket that detaches a recovery capsule, slows it and makes it dive into the atmosphere south of Hawaii. Airplanes towing trapezelike devices are to try to catch the parachuting capsule before it hits the water. On Aug. 14 the retrorocket of Discoverer V was fired by a ground signal, but the planes circled in vain. The capsule, an object 33 in. in diameter and weighing just over 300 Ibs., had disappeared.

Last week the Department of Defense explained that the retrorocket had probably fired when it was pointing in the wrong direction. Instead of slowing the recovery capsule and bringing it down, the rocket's thrust had increased the capsule's speed and put it in a different and higher orbit, where it circled for five months before the still-inexperienced Dark Fence watchers noticed it.

With this experience behind them. the space watchers could be expected to do better the next time a silent, unknown satellite starts criss-crossing the sky.

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