NASA ought to pay up after space debris punched a hole in my roof, homeowner says

Otero family sues Uncle Sam for $80K+ to make everything right

A Florida homeowner has sued NASA for more than $80,000 in compensation after debris from the International Space Station smashed a hole in his roof.

Alejandro Otero is understandably upset that the plummeting trash crashed into his family's house on March 8. According to his attorney Mica Nguyen Worthy, nobody was injured, and only Otero's son Daniel was home at the time.

The debris "left a sizable hole from the roof through the sub-flooring," the father's legal team said at the end of last week.

NASA confirmed in April debris, part of a battery pack it had jettisoned from the International Space Station back in 2021, had hit a home in Naples, Florida. Otero's counsel told The Register it was undisputed that the equipment that landed on the Oteros' home was the kit dumped by NASA.

The American agency said it would not be appropriate to comment on a pending lawsuit.

The Oteros are claiming the space debris really did a number on their home, and the family's legal team confirmed it is seeking at least $80,000 from NASA to cover repairs, business interruptions, emotional damage, and other costs. The home's insurer has also put in a claim.

Worthy said: "If the incident had happened overseas, and someone in another country were damaged by the same space debris as in the Oteros' case, the US would have been absolutely liable to pay for those damages under the Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects also known as the 'Space Liability Convention.'

"We have asked NASA not to apply a different standard towards US citizens or residents, but instead to take care of the Oteros and make them whole.

"Here, the US government, through NASA, has an opportunity to set the standard or 'set a precedent' as to what responsible, safe, and sustainable space operations ought to look like. If NASA were to take the position that the Oteros' claims should be paid in full, it would send a strong signal to both other governments and private industries that such victims should be compensated regardless of fault."

The law firm said it had been hired to help the Oteros "navigate the insurance and legal process and to make a formal claim against NASA." Specifically, a claim was filed under the Federal Tort Claims Act to which NASA has six months to respond.

Even in the event that something is on a collision course with Earth, the atmosphere can just burn it up during re-entry. That's apparently what NASA thought was going to happen with this battery part.

To be clear, it's not the first time space debris has ever landed and caused harm to something or someone, but such incidents have so far been very rare.

If NASA does end up settling with the Oteros, it could establish precedence that government organizations have to be responsible for their space debris. Precedence for this might have already been established, at least partly, when the Federal Communications Commission fined Dish for not moving one of its old satellites far enough from Earth, which the FCC said "could pose orbital debris concerns." ®

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