Space Debris Smashed Into House And Now Family in Florida Sues NASA

25th Jun 2024
Space Debris Smashed Into House And Now Family in Florida Sues NASA

A family from Naples, Florida, are seeking $80,000 from NASA for property damages, emotional and mental anguish after a metal piece of space junk fell on their house and punched a hole in the roof. No one was hurt, but the situation could set a precedent for how future space debris claims are resolved. 

What happened?

In March 2021, NASA ground controllers released a cargo pallet containing spent nickel hydride batteries from the International Space Station.

This flight support equipment used to mount the batteries on the cargo pallet was expected to fully burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. However, a piece of this hardware did not degrade and hit a house in Florida on 8 March 2024.

A homeowner, Alejandro Otero, said that his son was in the house when the metal cylinder fell from the sky and smashed the roof. He was close enough, a few rooms away from the impact, and was unharmed.

Mr Otero decided to sue the American space agency, seeking justice. According to US law, NASA has six months to respond to the lawsuit.

Watch out! Junk from outer space

NASA collected the notorious item and analyzed it at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The metallic object weighs 1.6 pounds and is four inches in height and 1.6 inches in diameter. Such an item could seriously injure a young man or even prove fatal.

space debris, NASA
NASA confirmed that space debris that fell into a home in Florida was from the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

Who is responsible?

The outcome of this case could help to address the question of how to manage incidents related to space debris in the future.

The attorney for Otero’s family, Mica Nguyen Worthy, said space debris “is a real serious issue because of the increase in space traffic in recent years.”

Indeed, each year the number of space debris increases and many people worldwide are at risk. Most of this space waste is likely to burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere. However, the recent incident proves that risks are real and raises the important question of responsibility for future space debris-related issues.

“NASA remains committed to responsibly operating in low Earth orbit, and mitigating as much risk as possible to protect people on Earth when space hardware must be released” – NASA wrote in a statement.

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