Florida family whose home was hit by space debris files claim against NASA

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A family is seeking compensation from NASA after a piece of metal debris from the International Space Station blew off the roof of their home in Naples, Fla., in March.

No one was hurt, but a legal representative for the Otero family described it as a “near miss” that “could have been catastrophic.” In a news release published on Friday.

Homeowner Alejandro Otero previously told The Washington Post that he received a panicked call from his son on the day of the incident. He returned home to find a dense, cylindrical piece of charred metal, slightly smaller than soup, in the wall, and immediately knew it was “from outer space.”

“My clients are seeking appropriate compensation for the stress and impact this incident has had on their lives,” family attorney Micah Nguyenworthy said in a news release. “Had the wreckage hit a few feet in the other direction, there could have been serious injury or loss of life.”

NASA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the legal claim.

NASA previously confirmed that the 1.6-pound cylindrical object that hit the roof of Otero's home was a piece of a 5,800-pound cargo pallet containing old nickel-hydride batteries that had been ejected from the International Space Station in March 2021.

Space junk was expected to burn up upon re-entry into Earth's atmosphere, but somehow escaped, raising concerns about a possible increase in such events in the future.

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“Space debris is a real and serious problem due to the increase in space traffic in recent years,” Worthy said.

Worthy said how NASA responds to the claim could set a legal precedent for how it treats incidents when they involve U.S. citizens and residents. She is asking NASA to treat the family's case as it would in fulfilling its obligations under international space law.

In the case of international incidents, the “Launching State” – the country that received the launch of an object or the country from which it was launched – is responsible for any damage caused to its objects. In the early 80s, the Soviet Union agreed to pay millions in compensation after a malfunctioning satellite burned up over Canada.

“If this incident had occurred overseas, and someone in another country had been harmed by the same space debris as in the Oteros case, the United States would have been fully responsible for paying for those damages,” Worthy said.

Worthy did not immediately respond to questions on the claim, including how much the family is seeking. The claim is “more than $80,000,” he told science and technology publication Ars Technica.

NASA has six months to respond to the claim under the Federal Torts Claims Act, he said in the news release. Claims include uninsured property damage, business interruption damages, emotional and mental anguish damages, and third-party assistance costs.

Praveena Somasundram and Daniel Wu contributed to this report.

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