After Hours

Happy anniversary to Skylab's criminal record

On July 11, 1979, the U.S. space station Skylab accomplished two feats: Re-enter the Earth's atmosphere, and wrack up a mild criminal record Down Under. It seems the "built by the lowest bidder" philosophy of American spaceflight came back to bite NASA in the nether regions, leading to a barely controlled deorbit that sent Skylab into Australia's Western regions. Specifically, the town of Esperance, which was blanketed with a light coating of miniscule Skylab debris — enough to earn the U.S. State Department a $400 fine for littering that — 28 years later — remains unpaid.

Still, as bad as the Skylab malfunction may seem, it's got nothing on the Soviet version of space litter, and the subsequent international fine. The Russkies, however, paid their tab, which earned out at about $30 million in the local victim's currency.

About Jay Garmon

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

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