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After space junk crashes through roof, family sues NASA for damages

Some hardware survived reentry and crashed through the roof of a Naples, Florida, home.
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Posted at 11:12 AM, Jun 24, 2024

After fragments left from the removal of aging nickel hydride batteries from the International Space Station crashed into a Florida home in March, a family announced they are suing NASA for damages.

Law firm Cranfill Sumner announced that it was filing the lawsuit on behalf of Alejandro Otero and his family. The suit claims noninsured property damage loss, business interruption damages, emotional/mental anguish damages and the costs for assistance from third parties required in the process.

“Space debris is a real and serious issue because of the increase in space traffic in recent years,” attorney Mica Nguyen Worthy said in a press release. "My clients are seeking adequate compensation to account for the stress and impact that this event had on their lives. They are grateful that no one sustained physical injuries from this incident, but a ‘near miss’ situation such as this could have been catastrophic. If the debris had hit a few feet in another direction, there could have been serious injury or a fatality.”

NASA said that the batteries, which weighed 5,800 pounds, were released from the International Space Station in March 2021 using a robotic arm as the station underwent upgrades. The agency expected the materials to burn up in Earth's atmosphere on March 8, 2024.

Instead, some of the nearly 3-ton piece of hardware survived reentry and crashed through the roof of a Naples, Florida, home. NASA said it determined the debris to be a stanchion used to mount the batteries on the cargo pallet.

NASA determined the remaining debris weighs 1.6 pounds, is 4 inches in height and 1.6 inches in diameter.

NASA notes that thousands of pieces of orbital debris orbit the Earth. Generally, when they reenter Earth's atmosphere, the intense heat and pressure cause them to burn up.

"Components which do survive are most likely to fall into the oceans or other bodies of water or onto sparsely populated regions like the Canadian Tundra, the Australian Outback, or Siberia in the Russian Federation," NASA said. "During the past 50 years an average of one cataloged piece of debris fell back to Earth each day. No serious injury or significant property damage caused by reentering debris has been confirmed."

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