For the first time in history, a family sues NASA for dumping space junk at their house

For the first time in history, a family sues NASA for dumping space junk at their house
For the first time in history, a family sues NASA for dumping space junk at their house

The case will set a precedent for the future, since the Earth’s orbit continues to be full of space debris

June 25, 2024, 1:30 p.m.

Updated June 25, 2024, 1:46 p.m.

We have been telling you about it for a long time: space junk is a problem that, far from diminishing, is becoming an ever-growing problem. So much so that there are already companies that are literally dedicated to removing waste from space. In just a few months, there have been several places on our planet where debris of all kinds has ended up falling from the sky. A family has just taken an almost logical step: the first lawsuit against NASA for dumping waste on their property.

An unusual case. The case involves a Florida family. The lawsuit, filed against the most famous space agency on the planet, asks for financial compensation for the stress caused after a piece of space debris fell from the sky and crashed into the roof of his house. Although no one was hurt, the family’s attorney says the ramifications of the case go far beyond simply repairing damages and could set a precedent for how future litigation will be resolved.

As reflected in the historic lawsuit, the family requests compensation for material damages, emotional and mental anguish, and the costs of third-party assistance required in the process. AFP reports that the family is asking for more than $80,000.

The culprit: an ISS battery. The case dates back to April, when a cylindrical-shaped object crashed into the roof of a family home in Naples, Florida, creating a hole in the ceiling and floor. The incident took place at the same time as the reentry of a huge platform of old ISS batteries, one that plummeted through the atmosphere the same day over the Gulf of Mexico and eventually headed toward southwest Florida.

The family reported the incident and NASA collected the object to study the dimensions and characteristics, eventually finding that it was indeed a fragment of the flight support equipment used to mount the batteries on the cargo pallet.

Remains of the piece that fell in the Florida home, analyzed by NASA

The heaviest piece. Following NASA’s investigation, it was learned that the loading platform contained nine batteries and weighed approximately 2,600 kilos, making it the heaviest piece of trash ever thrown from the ISS. A piece that ejected from the Canadarm2 robotic arm in 2021 and began its path toward Earth in uncontrolled re-entry (the object was supposed to degrade harmlessly upon re-entry).

The chaotic fall from orbit finally came to an end when the cargo pallet re-entered on March 8 somewhere over the Gulf of Mexico.

Official statement from the family. Through the lawyer who is handling the case we know more about what happened after the incident. According to a statement from Mica Nguyen Worthy, the attorney, “my clients seek appropriate compensation to take into account the stress and impact the event had on their lives. “They are grateful that no one was physically injured, but a ‘near miss’ situation like this could have been catastrophic.”

Furthermore, they add that “if the debris had fallen a few meters in another direction, there could have been serious injuries or a death.” For all this, the lawyer indicates that the case can set a milestone and precedent for the future, “here, the “The United States government, through NASA, has the opportunity to set the standard or ‘set a precedent’ for what responsible, safe and sustainable space operations should look like.”

The problem of garbage in space. A month ago, a family of Canadian farmers found remains of carbon fiber on their land. They turned out to be part of a ship. An object appeared in North Carolina a few weeks ago in a gampling, and there were also remains of a SpaceX ship. The bottom line is that we have filled the space with garbage, and you can’t control where it will end up. A problem that will increase, taking into account the significant increase in space launches and operations.

A study published in 2022 reflected that the space debris problem is so serious that there is a ten percent chance that someone on Earth will die from falling debris in the next decade. If so, what happens in the case of the family that has sued NASA could help provide a legal framework to deal with such an eventuality.

Image | NASA APPEL, NASA Johnson

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