Family claims NASA’s space debris tore through home after plummeting from orbit

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Family claims NASA’s space debris tore through home after plummeting from orbit

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NASA’s 5,800 pounds of space junk was supposed to orbit Earth for a couple of years before “burning up harmlessly in the atmosphere.”

That did not go as planned, and a Florida family received an unintended delivery from the International Space Station on March 8. 

A 1.6-pound metal alloy object “left a sizable hole from the roof through the sub-flooring” of the Otero family’s Naples home while their son was inside, according to the law firm representing the family.

No one was hurt, but the family’s lawyer, Mica Nguyen Worthy, said, “A ‘near miss’ situation such as this could have been catastrophic.”

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“Recovered stanchion from the NASA flight support equipment used to mount International Space Station batteries on a cargo pallet. The stanchion survived re-entry through Earth’s atmosphere on March 8, 2024, and impacted a home in Naples, Florida,” NASA said. (NASA)

An external pallet packed with old nickel-hydrogen batteries was intended to "harmlessly" burn up in Earth's atmosphere, according to NASA into 2021, but it didn't.

An external pallet packed with old nickel-hydrogen batteries was intended to “harmlessly” burn up in Earth’s atmosphere, according to NASA, but it did not. (NASA)

The International Space Station dropped an “external pallet packed with old nickel-hydrogen batteries orbiting 260 miles above the Pacific Ocean, west of Central America,” NASA said on March 11, 2021.

The remnant of the discarded pallet of batteries, which power the space station, burned to an object four inches in height and 1.6 inches in diameter, NASA said in an April 15 press release. 

It was expected to orbit Earth for two to four years before burning up “harmlessly” in the atmosphere. 

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International Space Station

A view of the International Space Station taken on March 30, 2022 by the crew of the Russian Soyuz MS-19 spaceship after undocking. (Roscosmos State Space Corporation via AP, File)

Astronomer Jonathan McDowell posted on X about the space trash’s entry into Earth’s atmosphere on March 8, along with its projected path and the possibility it could hit Fort Myers. 

“Looks like one of these pieces missed Ft. Myers and landed in my house in Naples,” Alejandro Otero responded, along with pictures of the damage and object. “Tore through the roof and went thru (sic) 2 floors. Almost his (sic) my son.”

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Otero’s posts on X have since been deleted.

NASA did not return Fox News Digital’s request for comment, but Otero’s lawyer responded in an email. 

Space asteroid

This illustration made available by Johns Hopkins APL and NASA depicts NASA’s DART probe, foreground right, and Italian Space Agency’s LICIACube, bottom right, at the Didymos system before impact with the asteroid Dimorphos, left. (Steve Gribben/Johns Hopkins APL/NASA via AP)

She clarified that there was no lawsuit yet and hopes it does not rise to that level. 

“We submitted claims to NASA for the Oteros, and if NASA is unable to resolve the claims to the Oteros’ satisfaction, then they would have the right to consider filing a lawsuit in federal court,” she said.

This is an opportunity for NASA to “set a precedent as to what responsible, safe, and sustainable space operations ought to look like,” according to Worthy.

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“Space debris is a real and serious issue because of the increase in space traffic in recent years,” the lawyer said. 

“If the incident had happened overseas, and someone in another country were damaged by the same space debris as in the Oteros’ case, the U.S. would have been absolutely liable to pay for those damages.”

She implored NASA and the U.S. government to follow the same legal principle.

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The piece that hit Otero’s home was analyzed at the space agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. 

NASA specialists use engineering models to estimate how objects “heat up and break apart during atmospheric re-entry,” according to NASA. 

Those models are “regularly updated” after situations like this where debris survives re-entry and crashes to the ground.

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“The International Space Station will perform a detailed investigation of the jettison and re-entry analysis to determine the cause of the debris survival and to update modeling and analysis, as needed,” NASA said on April 15. 

“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.”

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