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NASA selects SpaceX to help retire the ISS amid space junk suit

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NASA has the end of the International Space Station (ISS) in its sights as it deals with a historic lawsuit concerning space junk originating from the station. NASA awarded SpaceX nearly $1 billion to make the vehicle that will take the ISS out of its orbit when it’s time to retire in a few years. 

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The ISS launched in 1998 and is expected to be taken out of orbit by 2030.

In a press release on Wednesday, June 26, NASA said both the space station and SpaceX’s deorbit vehicle will “destructively” break up as they reenter Earth’s atmosphere. However, that’s not always the case when objects return from space. 

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In fact, a family is suing NASA after a piece of space junk crashed into their home in Naples, Florida, in March. The family’s attorney, Mica Nguyen Worthy, said this first-of-its-kind case will set a precedent for future space debris claims.

“Space debris is a real and serious issue because of the increase in space traffic in recent years,” Worthy said.

While no one was injured when the chunk of metal from the International Space Station tore through the roof of the family’s Naples home, Worthy said it was a “near miss situation” that “could have been catastrophic.”

Homeowner Alejandro Otero said his son was alone inside at the time and heard a loud noise.

“It was a tremendous sound,” Otero told WINK News in March. “It almost hit my son. He was two rooms over and heard it all.”

A cylindrical object was found wedged in a wall of the home. NASA analyzed it and later confirmed it was a metal piece from a cargo pallet used to carry batteries that had been jettisoned from the space station in 2021. 

Michelle Hanlon, the executive director of the Center for Air and Space Law at the University of Mississippi, recently told The Associated Press about the growing issue of space junk.

“Orbital debris is the name we’ve given old satellites, old rocket parts that are just floating in orbit,” Hanlon explained. “Now, you think space is vast? It’s infinite. Who cares? Well, our orbit is not infinite. And so these are objects that are stuck in our orbit and continue to circle the Earth. And it’s starting to get crowded up there.”

Like other orbital debris, NASA believed the 5,800-pound cargo would burn upon reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere, as the space station itself is expected to do in the near future. But not all of the load was destroyed — specifically the 1.6-pound metal object.

“Sometimes when things enter the atmosphere, they don’t burn up completely,” Hanlon said. “A few weeks ago, a home in Florida was hit by a piece of orbital debris. Everyone was fine. Nobody was hurt, but we don’t have a system to deal with that. We have a liability convention. Because it happened in the U.S., claims have to be made through the Federal Tort Claims Act and you have to show negligence.”

The Oteros are seeking compensation to account for the “stress and impact” the event has caused them. NASA has six months to respond.  

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KARAH RUCKER

NASA HAS THE END OF THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION IN ITS SIGHTS – JUST AS IT DEALS WITH A HISTORIC LAWSUIT CONCERNING SPACE JUNK FROM THE STATION.  

NASA AWARDING SPACEX NEARLY 1 BILLION DOLLARS TO MAKE THE VEHICLE THAT WILL TAKE THE ISS OUT OF ITS ORBIT WHEN IT’S TIME TO RETIRE IN A FEW YEARS.  

NASA SAYING BOTH THE SPACE STATION AND THE SPACEX’S DEORBIT VEHICLE WILL “DESTRUCTIVELY” BREAK UP AS THEY REENTER EARTH’S ATMOSPHERE.

BUT THAT’S NOT ALWAYS THE CASE WHEN OBJECTS RETURN FROM SPACE. 

IN A FIRST OF ITS KIND CASE — NASA IS BEING SUED – AFTER A PIECE OF SPACE JUNK CRASHED INTO A FLORIDA FAMILY’S HOME.

WHILE NO ONE WAS INJURED WHEN THE CHUNK OF METAL FROM THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION TORE THROUGH THE ROOF OF THE OTERO FAMILY’S NAPLES HOME 

– THE FAMILY’S ATTORNEY SAYS IT WAS A “NEAR MISS SITUATION” THAT “COULD HAVE BEEN CATASTROPHIC.”

HOMEOWNER ALEJANDRO (AH-LAY-HON-DRO) OTERO (OH-TEHR-OH) SAID HIS SON WAS ALONE INSIDE AT THE TIME AND HEARD A LOUD NOISE. 

A CYLINDRICAL OBJECT WAS FOUND WEDGED IN A WALL OF THE HOME. NASA ANALYZED IT 

AND LATER CONFIRMED IT WAS A METAL PIECE FROM A CARGO PALLET USED TO CARRY BATTERIES THAT HAD BEEN JETTISONED FROM THE SPACE STATION IN 20-21. 

IN A RECENT INTERVIEW WITH THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, MICHELLE HANLON — EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE CENTER FOR AIR AND SPACE LAW AT OLE MISS — SPOKE ON THE GROWING ISSUE OF SPACE JUNK – ALSO CALLED – 

MICHELLE HANLON

“Orbital debris is the name we’ve given old satellites, old rocket parts that are just floating in orbit. Now, you think space is vast? It’s infinite. Who cares? Well, our orbit is not infinite. And so these are objects that are stuck in our orbit and continue to circle the Earth. And it’s starting to get crowded up there.”

LIKE OTHER ORBITAL DEBRIS – NASA BELIEVED THE 5,800 POUND CARGO WOULD BURN UP ON REENTRY INTO THE EARTH’S ATMOSPHERE – BUT NOT ALL OF IT DID – SPECIFICALLY THE ONE-AND-A-HALF POUND METAL OBJECT. 

MICHELLE HANLON

“Sometimes when things enter the atmosphere, they don’t burn up completely. A few weeks ago, a home in Florida was hit by a piece of orbital debris. Everyone was fine. Nobody was hurt, but we don’t have a system to deal with that. We have a liability convention.  Because it happened in the U.S., claims have to be made through the Federal Tort Claims Act and you have to show negligence.”

[KARAH RUCKER]

THE OTEROS’ LAWYER SAY THE FAMILY IS SEEKING COMPENSATION TO ACCOUNT FOR THE QUOTE “STRESS AND IMPACT” THE EVENT HAS CAUSED THEM – ADDING THIS CASE WILL SET A PRECEDENT FOR FUTURE SPACE DEBRIS CLAIMS.

NASA HAS SIX MONTHS TO RESPOND.

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