Follow by Email

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Esperance, Western Australia

Hatch door

Skylab litter fee

Skylab oxygen tank

Spectacular scenery abounds here at Esperance, they call it the Bay of Isles. But the town is famous for another reason - thirty years ago this July, space station Skylab broke up over the Indian Ocean and space junk showered the little seaside town.

A young man, Stan Thornton, was there to witness the event. "There was this bunch of brightly coloured lights followed by big sonic booms, the sky lit up like a big retail shop" he said. His mother told him to go out to the backyard because she thought she heard something hit the roof of the shed. There he found sizzling bits of scorched metal.

Skylab was big news back then because it was the United States' first space station and the second one visited by a human crew. The San Francisco Examiner offered $10,000 for the first authenticated piece of Skylab brought to its office within 48 hours of re-entry.

So young Stan Thornton, then seventeen, jumped on a plane and arrived in San Francisco with no passport and only a shaving kit but his pieces were identified as plastic or wood insulation from Skylab and he got his $10,000 prize.

There was quite a lot of debris dropped over the town, some items were quite large and could have done some serious damage but luckily no one was injured. There was also a lot of coming and going of Government officials collecting and documenting every piece of debris they could find. The local ranger sent NASA a tongue in cheek $400 bill for littering and three months later the debt was written off but never quite forgotten. But now, after almost 30 years, the bill has finally been paid in full - but not by NASA.

American radio station host Scott Barley from Highway Radio paid the fine on NASA’s behalf from donations given to the cause by his radio fans. “I wanted listeners to start off 2009 with a generous offering of goodwill to our Australian friends south of the equator.”

Mr Barley said he hoped to travel to Esperance in July for the 30th anniversary of the Skylab crash.