There are countless tales of the strange lurking about all about the Internet, many of them in the dark corners where many do not think to even look for them. Occasionally one will come across an incredible story that is at once completely outlandish and eyebrow raising, seeming to be surely the stuff of tall tales, and this is certainly one of those. The somewhat dubious tale we are looking at here begins with a man named John Smith, who was supposedly born in 1941 into a military family, going on in his young adult years to enroll in the military college of the US Air Force in 1960, from where he allegedly graduated with flying colors. He would go on to fight as a pilot in the Vietnam War, earning a “Medal for Service in Vietnam” and quite the reputation as a respected ace pilot, after which he set his sights on becoming an astronaut. In this endeavor he apparently succeeded, and he was assigned as what is referred to as a “cleaner,” part of a space mission to clear Earth’s orbit of various space junk including pieces of rockets, out of service satellites, and other random detritus and trash to make the void safe for space travel. This is where his life would apparently get weird, and become a very strange tale of a man lost in space, only to reappear alive decades later under some very mysterious circumstances.
In the 1970s, the U.S. government was fully engaged in an anti-satellite program in order to monitor and possibly engage enemy spy satellites. This had been going on since the early 1960s, with the creation of Program 505 in 1962, based at the Kwajalein Missile Range, about halfway between Hawaii and the Philippine islands, and using the Nike Zeus anti-ballistic missile to intercept satellites. This went on to form the foundation of Program 437, which was the second anti-satellite weapons program of the U.S. military, this time using PGM-17 Thor ballistic missiles to intercept low Earth orbiting satellites, and which had its facilities on Johnston Island, an isolated island in the north central Pacific Ocean. Both programs carried out a series of tests of high-altitude nuclear explosions and both were very real, but the program that Smith would supposedly become involved in was a bit different. Even when official anti-satellite programs and development were ended in 1975, anti-satellite technology continued, and Smith would become involved in one such plan, using astronauts to supposedly act as a security patrol in space against enemy satellites.
In this case, the idea was apparently to use a top-secret network of manned space vehicles designed to detect, hunt down, and destroy enemy ballistic missiles as well as satellites. The story goes that in October of 1973, Smith was launched up into space on a mission aboard a vessel disguised as a satellite in order to remain undetected as he went about his mysterious, top-secret work. Three days apparently went by without incident, but then his ship entered an area of anomalous heightened radiation and his maneuvering and orientation systems inexplicably went haywire. At the time there were also purportedly several unexplained bursts of unexplained radio noise that could not be tracked. NASA apparently tried to save the stricken astronaut, but were unable to do so, and his communications equipment then shut down entirely to leave him lost to space.
Soon after the strange incident, NASA purportedly went about covering it all up, noting the failed mission as simply the result of an accident during a training flight, making no mention of the radiation or the radio interference, and highly classifying the whole thing. There it would remain, in the files of tragedies in space, Smith relegated to the files of lost astronauts and space mysteries, but then in 2000, the lost spaceship that had been carrying Smith was allegedly discovered quite by accident when an amateur astronomer in the Fiji Islands observed an anomalous orbiting object at an altitude of 470 kilometers and reported it to the proper authorities, who became convinced that it was Smith’s spacecraft based on its trajectory and appearance. They then went about trying to retrieve the craft, and as it had fallen into a stable and low orbit it was able to be collected during the next flight of the shuttle Endeavor in 2001. This is where things get really weird.
When the spacecraft was brought to earth, it was apparently opened and much to the utter shock of all present, Smith was not only found inside, but he was still alive even after decades of being lost in space. He was unconscious and seemed to be in some sort of state of suspended animation, but no one could figure out how this could be. Efforts were made to revive him, and a medical examination would soon turn up some strange anomalies. For one, although Smith’s heart was in the right location, the thing was that before the flight he had been one of those rare people whose heart lies to the right rather than the more common left, yet now it was where it should be. There was also the fact that there were no signs of the fracture of the ribs he had sustained as a young boy and several large moles that he had had were gone, as well as some scars that he was known to have had. It was as if his body had been somehow "fixed." This would only be the beginning of the strangeness, as his personal notebook was found with him in the compartment, which happened to be missing 50 pages and supposedly had 24 pages full of cryptic symbols that resembled hieroglyphics and which no one could decipher.
When Smith was lucid enough to talk, he would turn out to have no memory of what had happened to him and no awareness that he had been lost in space for nearly three decades, no sense that any time had passed at all, and he was quite the conundrum. As authorities tried to figure out what was going on, Smith would allegedly pull off one last mystery, when he one day just suddenly vanished from the facility where he was being kept without a trace. There was no sign as to how he could have escaped the secured area undetected, no trace of him on CCTV footage, nothing. It was as if he had just evaporated into thin air.
That is where this bizarre tale apparently ends. The government came in and had the whole thing classified and buried, and that was that. Seeing as the case only seems to be talked about on a few conspiracy sites and Reddit, with no sources really given and the whole "government top-secret cover-up" angle played to the hilt, there is a very likely chance that this is nothing but the stuff of Internet legends and creepypasta stories, the result of some people getting a little creative and starting up "unsolved mysteries" that have never really existed outside of the imagination. Take it all with a grain of salt, but the story has made the rounds, and true or not, tall tale or otherwise, it is all pretty bonkers and eye-brow raising all the same.