Skip to main content

NASA sued by Florida man whose house was hit by space junk

The International Space Station.
The International Space Station orbiting about 250 miles above Earth. NASA

NASA is being sued by a man whose house was damaged by a piece of space junk that came from the International Space Station (ISS).

The incident occurred in March and involved a 1.6-pound metal alloy object 4 inches in height and 1.6 inches in diameter. NASA confirmed in April that it had come from a 5,800-pound pallet of space junk containing aging nickel hydride batteries that was released from the station in 2021.

ISS hardware dumps like this one would ordinarily have burned up in Earth’s atmosphere, but on this occasion it didn’t happen. Instead, a chunk of the debris survived reentry and crashed through the roof of a house belonging to Alejandro Otero in Naples, Florida. Otero’s son was at home at the time of the incident but escaped injury.

In a statement from the law firm representing the Otero family, partner Mica Nguyen Worthy revealed that a claim had been submitted to NASA to recover her clients’ damages resulting from the incident.

“My clients are seeking adequate compensation to account for the stress and impact that this event had on their lives,” Worthy said. “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.”

Worthy noted that if such an incident occurs outside of the U.S., NASA would be held responsible for damage under the Space Liability Convention, a treaty established in the 1970s. But the law is not so clear if it happens within U.S. borders.

“We have asked NASA not to apply a different standard towards U.S. citizens or residents, but instead to take care of the Oteros and make them whole,” Worthy said. “Here, the U.S. government, through NASA, has an opportunity to set the standard or ‘set a precedent’ as to what responsible, safe, and sustainable space operations ought to look like. If NASA were to take the position that the Oteros’ claims should be paid in full, it would send a strong signal to both other governments and private industries that such victims should be compensated regardless of fault.”

NASA has six months to respond to the claim.

The space agency said in April that it “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.”

Otero, speaking shortly after the object punctured a hole in the roof of his home, said: “I was shaking. I was completely in disbelief. What are the chances of something landing on my house with such force to cause so much damage,” adding that he was “super grateful that nobody got hurt.”

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
NASA’s next ISS spacewalk has an unusual objective
An astronaut during a spacewalk.

NASA Live: Official Stream of NASA TV

While most NASA spacewalks at the International Space Station (ISS) are for upgrade or maintenance work, the one taking place on Thursday, June 13, has a rather different objective -- to find out if there are any living organisms on the exterior of the orbital outpost.

Read more
Japanese satellite chases down space junk
Image of a piece of space debris seen from Astroscale's ADRAS-J satellite.

There's a growing problem of junk cluttering up the space beyond our planet. Known as space debris, it consists of broken satellites, discarded rocket parts, and other tiny pieces of metal and other materials that move around the planet, often at extremely high speeds. Space debris has threatened the International Space Station and impacted China's space station, and junk from space has even fallen onto a house in the U.S. recently.

Many scientists have called for greater environmental protections of space, but how to deal with all the existing debris is an open problem. Much of the debris is hard to capture because it is oddly shaped or traveling at great speed. Cleanup suggestions have involved using magnets, or nets, or lasers. But now a system from Japanese company Astroscale has taken an up-close image of a piece of space debris it has been chasing down, and it could help make future cleanup easier.

Read more
China’s space station was hit by space junk
China's Tiangong space station shown from above.

China's Tiangong space station shown from above. CMSA

Crew members aboard China’s space station have successfully completed repairs after a debris strike caused a partial power failure at the facility, officials of the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) revealed at a press conference on Wednesday.

Read more