Chunk of Space Hardware Rips Through Florida Man’s Home

The Guardian

Lex Valluzzi, Staff Writer

Last month in Naples, Florida, resident Alejandro Otero received a distressing phone call from his nineteen-year-old son about an unidentified object, about the size of a soda can, had crashed through the roof of their house and ripped through multiple hardwood floors. Otero’s son was home alone during the incident and was luckily uninjured from the event. A month later, NASA confirmed the object had come from space. Raising some questions about the object’s descent.  

After the incident, the Otero family had pieced together what had happened by watching their home security footage. NASA confirmed their suspicion, the mystery object was a cylindrical battery pack from the international space station that was part of a project NASA released  roughly three years ago. The project was set for an uncontrolled reentry to Earth, the European  space agency sent out a warning that battery packs may enter the Earth’s atmosphere around the  time the Otero home was hit.  

The predicted path of debris was supposed to land over the Gulf of Mexico, but it seemed to have flown off course. NASA is currently reviewing their engineering models to figure out the root of the problems. 

The battery packs that reentered Earth’s atmosphere were supposed to burn up upon entry.  However, the chunk of metal that tore through the house was ripped out of the floorboards and was found to be only half melted. Scientists are wondering why the pack didn’t burn fully as well as what caused the hardware to descend off course. One of the possible conclusions that NASA has come to is that Inconel, the heat resistant superalloy the battery was made of, was resistant enough to partially survive the fall.

An immediate concern for the Otero family was whether the battery pack was toxic or hazardous to their health in any capacity. NASA was able to provide reassurance to the Otero family and their lawyers stating the object was not toxic. No hazmat teams were necessary for the object’s extraction from the home.  

Despite this, Alejandro Otero has filed a claim against NASA to pay for the damage done to his home. NASA’s legal counselor has stated that they need to determine whose module the battery pack came from first before working out liability.  

“If space debris falls back to Earth, the launching state is absolutely liable for any damage to property or persons that occurs on the surface of the Earth,” said Mark Sundahl, the Director of the Global Space Law Center at Cleveland State University in a statement. NASA has determined the battery pack is of United States origins, so the legality of the case from here on out is between the Otero family and the U.S. government. Sundahl has also stated that nothing like this has ever happened before. Most debris burns up in the atmosphere and there has never been any reports of damage to personal property before.  

“There are a lot of lessons to be learned from this event. I hope no one else has to go through this. It was really scary for our whole family, and we are just very grateful that no one got physically hurt,” Otero stated about the incident.

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