NASA’s fault: Debris from the ISS fell on a house in Florida

Florida homeowner Alejandro Otero reported that a metal object weighing about 1 kg crashed into the roof of his house and pierced two floors. Presumably, this is a fragment of a garbage container thrown off the ISS in 2021.

Fragment of space debris fell on a house in Florida. Source: Alejandro Otero

The incident occurred on March 8. According to the security camera, the fragment crashed into the house at 2:34 p.m. local time. According to the US Space Command, just five minutes earlier, a fragment of space debris entered the Earth’s atmosphere over the Gulf of Mexico. It was on a trajectory leading to southwest Florida. So it is almost certain that the object that fell on the house is one of its unburned fragments.

The source of this debris is the ISS. In 2021, NASA threw out a 2.9-ton pallet loaded with spent nickel-hydrogen batteries from the station. The Canadarm2 manipulator arm was used to throw it off. Since the pallet had no engines, in the following years it declined uncontrollably until it entered the Earth’s atmosphere. 

A pallet with spent batteries thrown from the ISS. Source: NASA

Of course, much larger fragments of space debris, such as spent rocket stages and satellites, regularly fall to Earth from space. However, due to design features, fragments of batteries have a much greater chance of surviving atmospheric entry. Even before the pallet fell, astrophysicist and satellite spotter Jonathan McDowell predicted that up to half a ton of debris from the ISS would reach the Earth’s surface. But NASA was of the opinion that the pallet would almost completely burn up in the atmosphere. In the end, McDowell was right.

It is worth noting that initially NASA was not going to just throw away such a large cargo from the ISS. It was planned to use the HTV supply spacecraft for its disposal. However, this was prevented by the accident that occurred in 2018, which happened during the launch of the Soyuz MS-10 mission. It led to disruption of the schedule of spacewalks and replacement of the ISS batteries. As a result, HTV flew to Earth empty, and NASA had to find another way to get rid of the debris.

A hole left by a fallen piece of space debris. Source: NASA

Apparently, now the aerospace administration will have to pay some kind of compensation to the owner of the house. It is reported that NASA experts have already taken the fragment for analysis.

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