Astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley were launched to the International Space Station by NASA and SpaceX. This is the first time humans have flown to the International Space Station from American soil since 2011.
A word to the wise for Floridians: if a piece of the new SpaceX rocket falls into your yard, call the cops immediately — or face the consequences.
Floridians could face charges if they don’t turn over pieces of rockets or other man-made space debris that crash onto their land or wash up on their beach, according to a bill passed by lawmakers on Monday.
If you find an item on your lawn that “reasonably” resembles a space part and don’t report it to police, you may face a new first-degree misdemeanor, a $1,000 fine, and restitution to the part’s owner.
The bill is now on its way to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk, backed by SpaceX, which is led by Elon Musk, the company’s founder and CEO. For years, the business has launched from Cape Canaveral. Its Falcon 9 rocket launched four astronauts to the International Space Station from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Friday.
While NASA rockets and shuttles have launched from Florida for decades, lawmakers and a SpaceX lobbyist say the evolving nature of spaceflight has made it more urgent to recover lost pieces.
SpaceX is more reliant on recovering parts and pieces because it is reusing rockets and other parts to significantly reduce the cost of spaceflight. Furthermore, since private companies like SpaceX have taken over a number of spaceflight responsibilities from NASA, companies don’t want to risk what might be important design secrets.
Last month, SpaceX lobbyist Jeff Sharkey testified before a House committee that the company was concerned about losing intellectual property to China.
“This bill, which seems trivial, is extremely important,” Sharkey said.
Rep. Tyler Sirois, R-Merritt Island, whose district includes Cape Canaveral, said that retrieving spacecraft parts is becoming a “increasingly popular problem” in Florida.
“In my district, when the Challenger was lost, pieces of the orbiter were washing up on our beaches,” he told lawmakers last month.
He also mentioned a fisherman who caught two red parachutes and a hatch door used by SpaceX 32 miles off the coast of Daytona Beach last year.
The bill, according to Sirois, is intended to retrieve objects that are specifically identified as belonging to spacecraft, rather than nuts and bolts.
It’s especially concerned with preventing people from reselling the goods. He cited stories of people attempting to sell debris from the Columbia tragedy in 2003 on eBay. Federal law prohibits the sale of such products. An Ohio man pleaded guilty to theft of government property in 2000 after attempting to resell a piece of the Challenger space shuttle 14 years after it exploded off the coast of Florida.
“What we don’t want is for it to end up for sale or in the hands of a competitor country,” Sirois said. “We want these materials to be returned to people who launched it.”
The Senate overwhelmingly passed the bill on Monday, sending it to DeSantis’ desk, where it will become law unless he vetoes it. The bill goes into effect on July 1st.
According to Sirois, Florida will be the first state to pass legislation requiring citizens to report such things to police.
Anyone who finds debris that is “reasonably recognizable as a spaceflight commodity” must report the identification and location to their local police, according to House Bill 221.
“Crewed and uncrewed capsules, launch vehicles, parachutes and other landing aids, and any ancillary equipment that was attached to the launch vehicle during launch, orbit, or reentry,” according to the bill.
The police must then make a “reasonable attempt” to find the owner of the component and “promptly” inform them after being called. If police assume “exigent situations” exist, such as the part posing a “immediate danger to public safety” or the part being damaged or lost, the bill requires the owner to access private property to retrieve the part.
Someone who discovers the part has no right to keep it, sell it, or refuse to hand it over to the authorities. If they do, they could be charged with “misappropriation of a spaceflight asset,” a new misdemeanor.
Although the bills have passed through committees with flying colors, some legislators have raised concerns.
“We’re now in a very weird situation where something that drops in my backyard, I have a duty to return it. And if I keep it, I’m being charged with a crime,” Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Miami, said during a committee meeting. “It’s a very new and novel area.”
Former prosecutor Pizzo expressed another concern about the bill. In Florida, stealing something worth more than $750 is classified as grand theft, a third-degree felony. Is it possible that if the space component is worth more than $750, the individual may be charged with grand theft as well as a misdemeanor for failing to turn it in?
Local prosecutors, according to Sirois, will make those decisions.
In the end, he said the bill was about making Florida more welcoming to aerospace firms, and he didn’t think the new legislation would affect many Floridians.
“Floridians have aerospace in their blood. It’s part of their ethos in the state,” he said. “I think people will recognize the duty to return these items to their owner.”