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

In March, Alejandro Otero’s home in Naples, Florida, experienced significant damage when a piece of space debris, originating from the International Space Station (ISS), crashed through his roof. The debris was a 1.6-pound metal alloy object measuring 4 inches in height and 1.6 inches in diameter. This incident occurred due to a pallet of space junk containing aging nickel hydride batteries, released from the ISS in 2021, failing to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere as expected.

While Otero’s son, who was at home during the incident, fortunately escaped injury, the event caused considerable damage and distress to the family. Following the incident, a claim has been filed against NASA by the Otero family seeking compensation for the damages incurred. The claim aims to cover not only the physical damages to the property but also the emotional stress caused by the incident.

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Mica Nguyen Worthy, a partner at the law firm representing the Otero family, emphasized the potential severity of the incident, noting that if the debris had landed just a few feet away, it could have resulted in serious injury or even fatalities. She highlighted the importance of NASA taking responsibility and setting a precedent for compensating victims in such cases, regardless of fault.

Under the Space Liability Convention, which governs incidents involving space debris internationally, NASA would typically be liable for damages caused outside of U.S. borders. However, the application of this law within the U.S. remains less clear. Nevertheless, Worthy urged NASA to treat U.S. citizens equally and responsibly handle the Otero family’s claim.

NASA, in response, has affirmed its commitment to operating in low-Earth orbit responsibly and minimizing risks associated with space hardware releases. The agency stated its dedication to protecting people on Earth during these operations. NASA now has six months to respond to the claim submitted by the Otero family.

Alejandro Otero expressed his shock and disbelief after the incident, stating his gratitude that no one was physically harmed. The incident has sparked a legal and ethical discussion about the responsibilities of space agencies like NASA in ensuring public safety and compensating individuals affected by space debris incidents.