On April 15, NASA confirmed that a piece of “space junk” that crashed into a home in Florida came from the International Space Station. About three years ago, the International Space Station disposed of a slab of spaceborne trash that weighed over 5,000 pounds. NASA originally thought it would burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere. But, a piece survived.

What Was the Space Junk?

Debris from International Space Station
The piece of debris from the International Space Station that crashed into a home in Naples, Florida; Photo: NASA

In March 2021, the ISS disposed of thousands of pounds of spaceborne trash hoping it would burn up before touching Earth. That didn’t happen. The cargo pallet released from the space station’s robotic arm consisted of aging nickel hydride batteries. In total, the cargo weighed about 5,800 pounds.

On March 8 this year, the junk was supposed to burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere. However, a piece of hardware from the cargo slipped through the cracks. When it escaped the Earth’s atmosphere, it crashed through a home in Naples, Florida. After quite a surprise to the space agency and the homeowner, NASA retrieved the piece of junk. In addition, NASA assessed the piece of hardware and determined that it was a stanchion from flight support equipment used to mount the batteries onto the cargo pallet.

NASA says the object is made of the metal alloy Inconel. It weighs 1.6 pounds, 4 inches in height and 1.6 inches in diameter.


A Close Call

International Space Station
The International Space Station orbits the Earth; Photo: NASA

NASA is still unsure how the object made it through Earth’s atmosphere and is investigating the release of the cargo and re-entry to figure out how the debris made it through the atmosphere.

In an interview with WINK News the homeowner, Alejandro Otero, said, “It was a tremendous sound. It almost hit my son.” WINK News interviewed Otero days after the incident. Otero said, “He was two rooms over and heard it all.” In that interview, Otero described the debris and the damage it caused to his home. When he saw the debris, he thought it could be something that fell from space. Otero, who wasn’t home at the time, says the debris tore through his roof. He said, “I’m super grateful that nobody got hurt.”

In NASA’s statement from April 15, they said, “NASA remains committed to responsibly operating in low Earth orbit, and mitigating as much risk as possible to protect people on Earth when space hardware must be released.”