May 24, 2024

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The piece of metal that tore apart a house in Florida almost certainly came from the International Space Station

The piece of metal that tore apart a house in Florida almost certainly came from the International Space Station

NASA has confirmed that an object that fell on a Florida home last month was part of a battery pack launched from the International Space Station.

This extraordinary incident opens new frontiers in space law. NASA, the homeowner and lawyers navigate little-used legal codes and intergovernmental agreements to determine who should pay for the damages.

Alejandro Otero, the owner of a home hit by debris in Naples, Florida, told Ars he was fairly certain the object came from the space station, even before NASA confirmed it. The circumstances strongly suggest that this is the case. The cylindrical piece of metal tore off the roof of his house on March 8, a few minutes after US Space Command announced the return of a decommissioned charging pad and nine batteries to a space station above the Gulf of Mexico on a course toward the southwest Florida coast.

On Monday, NASA confirmed the origin of the object after it was recovered from Otero. The agency said in a statement that the object is made of Inconel metal alloy, weighs 1.6 pounds, and is 4 inches high and 1.6 inches in diameter.

“As part of the analysis, NASA completed an assessment of the object’s dimensions and characteristics compared to released instruments and conducted a materials analysis,” the agency said. “Based on examination, the agency determined the debris to be a prop of NASA flight support equipment used to mount the batteries on the charging pad.”

A jolt from the sky

Otero was out of the country when his home was attacked, but his 19-year-old son was home. The impact looked like fireworks, Otero said in an interview Tuesday. A recording from Otero's Nest camera captured the noise.

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The son “was sitting in front of his computer doing his homework with his headphones on and listening to music, and he shook out of his chair very loudly,” Otero said.

After surveying the damage when he arrived home, Otero filed a police report, and first responders helped pull the body from the basement between the first and second floors of his home. It penetrated the roof and roof of an unoccupied bedroom on the second floor, then hit the floor between the bed and the bathroom and struck a piece of air conditioning duct. It hit so hard that it caused a bulge in the first floor ceiling but did not penetrate it, according to Otero.

Something with the size and mass of this battery support strut likely hit the home run with a terminal speed of over 200 mph (320 km/h). At that speed, the results could have been fatal.

“Fortunately, no one was hurt,” Otero said.

A quick look at the object indicated to Otero that it might have come from space. “It's super dense, it's a very strong alloy, and it's a very interesting metal,” he said. “When I saw that it was half charred, and that it had a cylindrical shape that had taken on a concave shape from traveling through the atmosphere, I realized that it must have come from outer space.

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“I knew it was man-made,” Otero continued. “I didn’t know where it came from until I started googling it.”

Otero said he found the original Ars article about the March 8 reentry, along with posts about the event on X. That's when he contacted a local media outlet. WINK News, the CBS affiliate in Southwest Florida, was first to report the damage to Otero's home. After Otero tried several times to contact NASA officials, a lawyer from Kennedy Space Center called him to hear his story. NASA then sent someone to pick up the object from Naples.

“This is very unique,” ​​Otero said. “I don't think I've ever seen or heard, after my own research, any of these events happening.”