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NASA's Skylab $400 Littering Fine Paid By DJ 111

astroengine writes "Space Disco speaks with a Californian radio DJ about his role in raising, and paying, NASA's 30-year old littering fine levied by a Western Australian town. Skylab parts fell on Esperance in 1979, but the space agency's refusal to pay $400 has resulted in an entertaining annual grudge. Now the Barstow radio DJ is guest of honor at this weekend's 30th anniversary celebrations in Oz and the two small towns at opposite ends of the Pacific will be twinned... all because Skylab had a messy re-entry..."


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NASA's Skylab $400 Littering Fine Paid By DJ

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  • Tough Luck (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    If you don't want America's garbage raining down on you, you are going to have to defeat us on the field of battle.

    What's that? You haven't printed trillions of dollars to build up an absurdly capable military?

    I suggest you grab a helmet and dig yourself a bunker, mate.

  • Simpsons (Score:5, Funny)

    by BigJClark ( 1226554 ) on Tuesday July 14, 2009 @12:36PM (#28692597)

    This story reads like a Simpsons' episode.
  • NASA needs DJs to raise $400 for a littering fine applied 30 years ago.
    • by djdavetrouble ( 442175 ) on Tuesday July 14, 2009 @12:49PM (#28692773) Homepage

      I have been to Barstow, a hot hot hot overgrown truck stop in the middle of California's central valley.
      This genius found a way to escape to australia for a bit, kudos to him.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Niris ( 1443675 )
        Being from Fresno, CA, I completely agree. Also, Barstow isn't in the central valley. Central valley ends out near Bakersfield, and Barstow is a bit more southeast from there towards Vegas.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by VoltageX ( 845249 )
        So he goes to Western Australia, a hot hot hot overgrown truck (road train) stop on the edge of Australia.
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Gotta love government bureaucracy. I guarantee you it was supposed to be approved by some middle manager who left/got transferred before getting around to doing it - and no one ever bothered to check after that.

    • by Hatta ( 162192 ) *

      I bet the town could have sold the Skylab debris for more than $400.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by deniable ( 76198 )
        They probably did, but local councils like to maximise their revenue opportunities.
    • That's pretty good budget management when you get someone else to pay.
  • Littering? Really? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Blixinator ( 1585261 ) on Tuesday July 14, 2009 @12:51PM (#28692815)
    Do they also give fines for littering to people who wreck their cars and leave debris on the side of the road? I don't mean the whole car, but stuff like smashed headlights and windows.
    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      If somebody knowingly left debris on the side of the road - not quite deliberately, but after a deliberate action they knew what lead to things like smashed headlights etc. falling off -, and then refused to clear it up... should they not receive a fine?

      Put another way: why DIDN'T NASA clean up their debris? And no, "they're too far away and it'd be too expensive for them to do so" is not an excuse: just let them hire a local contractor. I know if China's space agency or whatever let debris fall on MY town,

      • It's probably a jurisdictional thing. Once someone represented NASA entered the community, they would be liable for the littering fine. Even if it's a contractor from the community operating in NASA's interest. If the fine wasn't imposed, they probably would have contracted with someone for the clean up just to examine wreckage.

    • by BenEnglishAtHome ( 449670 ) on Tuesday July 14, 2009 @01:05PM (#28693019)

      ...stuff like smashed headlights and windows.

      Where I come from, E-class (emergency-class) wrecker license tags, the ones that allow you to legally respond to car wrecks, are highly prized, being considered virtually a license to print money. Because of that, the wrecker drivers are perfectly willing to shoulder the extra burden of post-wreck cleanup. To keep your E-tag, you have to clean up the miscellaneous parts littering the road after a wreck. Generally, the last step in towing away a wrecked car involves the wrecker driver using a large pushbroom to clean off the roadway.

      • Here in Melbourne there used to be battles on the street between tow truck drivers. It was absolute mayhem. Then the state government forced an allocation system on the tow trucks. Then the truck drivers figured out the algorithm it was using. Now its kind of an information war based on who can do a better job of gaming the system.
    • by Zebai ( 979227 )
      Its difficult tell from the various articles, but it seems as if it was no single piece of debris but a great deal of pieces of the station survived reentry and was scattered around. It is unlikely they bothered to retrieve and pick up any of it so if your broken down car was shattered into 100 pieces and spread across 10 counties and you only cleaned up the pieces that were important you would be fined too.
    • Not sure, but a friend of mine was fined (in Australia, coincidentally) when his surfboard flew off the top of his car and shattered all over the freeway. Adds insult to injury ... They seem to have a fine for everything in Oz.
      • by tzhuge ( 1031302 )
        Umm... that could be considered driving with an unsecured load. I don't think Oz is the only place you might be fined for that.
        • I was referring to the speeding/red light cameras everywhere & parking/train/J-walking fines that seem to get dished out at a ridiculous rate. I'm saving a fortune living in Wisconsin.
          • Because fining people for breaking the law is a strange idea...?
            Those crazy Aussies!
            • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

              Not so much that, but making new laws just so you can fine people and increase the governmental revenue stream seems to be the way to go here. In the Melbourne CBD, there are around 500 parking inspectors wandering around the city from 6am till 1am, and if your car is parked somewhere for more than 3 minutes after it's allocated time, $110 fine. Even at 12:45am... in a 1 hr parking spot that I'd parked in at 11:50pm, I got fined - the onus fell on me to prove that I had been there less than one hour and I h
              • What evidence have you that the law you ran afoul of was "new"? Or that said law was made "just so you can fine people and increase the governmental revenue stream"?
                Receiving a fine in the specific instance you describe is unpleasant, but unlikely to be proof supporting either of your claims.
    • by darkmeridian ( 119044 ) <william,chuang&gmail,com> on Tuesday July 14, 2009 @01:24PM (#28693317) Homepage

      Yes, they fine you for littering if you leave your bumper on the road after an accident. They also bill you for repairing the dividers, signposts, and lamp posts that you destroyed in an accident. Utah did that to my parents when they got into a car accident. Utah could get reimbursement from the federal government only by showing they exhausted other sources of funding, including billing accident victims.

    • by Rennt ( 582550 )
      Yes, if they catch you, they will.
    • They can do, yes. Western Australia has on the spot littering fines for any litter what-so-ever. Of course, you have to be caught and some bastard actually has to write you up.

      • by deniable ( 76198 )
        "$40 on the spot fine and up to $400 in the courts" is the way I remember it. Hmm, that 400 looks familiar.
  • If they think that Skylab was bad, just wait until NASA crashes the ISS [] into the middle of Sydney!

    • by system1111 ( 1527561 ) on Tuesday July 14, 2009 @01:10PM (#28693113)
      crashes has such negative connotations. NASA prefers you use the term terrestrial parking. Thanks!
      • Except that terrestrial parking is waaay too broad. The space shuttle also does terrestrial parking (Apollo, Gemini, and Mercury too, if you're talking about terrestrial as in Earth, not land). In fact, I do terrestrial parking everyday. How else am I going to get out of my car?
        • Wow.

        • WHOOSHHHHH. Was that the ISS flying over head???
        • You guys obviously didn't understand what I was getting at. Your euphemism for a bad thing could also be used to describe some other good thing (successful landing). I don't want my good landings lumped in with your crashes.

          In order for this to work, you need to come up with some phrase like "very rough landing." Yes, it still includes a list of not so bad occurrences, but it's a lot less encompassing.

          Mr. Anonymous Trolling Coward, I indeed have a very healthy number of close friends. You really sh
      • by deniable ( 76198 )
        I thought they called it "repositioning to a (much) lower orbit."
    • I don't think de-orbiting means what you think it means. They did not say "plan to re-entry the ISS." I think de-orbit simply means the ISS will exit Earthly orbit and head off into space on some tangent to be determined by a bunch of really smart scientists.
      • I don't think de-orbiting means what you think it means. They did not say "plan to re-entry the ISS." I think de-orbit simply means the ISS will exit Earthly orbit and head off into space on some tangent to be determined by a bunch of really smart scientists.

        Says who? De-orbit means either send it off into space or send it crashing to the ground. NASA is likely to do whichever is cheaper, especially when their budget gets cut even further over the next few years.

        Since the Aussies seem to have liked the last one we send them, judging by their art in that photo, we should send them this one too. :)

        • NASA has referred to returning to Earth as re-entry for as long as I can remember. Unless you other /.ers have some swaying argument to suggest that this newish term "de-orbiting" means something other than staying in space but leaving Earth's orbit, I'm kindly sticking my fingers in my ears and yelling "I CAN'T HEAR YOU!"
          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by jvonk ( 315830 )

            You mean like this [] example from NASA's own site? I found that in 15 seconds on google.

            Where do you think they would send the ISS? A Lagrange point? Please.

            It is going to be thrown away just after it is complete. I think it is sick, but they have been talking about this ever since the 1990's. I remember reading about this planned destruction at age 12 in Popular Science--even before they had launched the first component. I was very disgusted with our "progress" in space exploration, then as now.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by caerwyn ( 38056 )

        The ISS doesn't have the power budget to get out of earth orbit. De-orbit will definitely mean controlled re-rentry. It really won't be that hard, since they'll surely be able to do it in pieces.

      • by Daravon ( 848487 )

        ISS will exit Earthly orbit and head off into space

        HAH! They're learning how to spend their money wisely. Not only do we no longer have to support the ISS, we also get to take credit for the first ruskies on Mars AND we get a good laugh at Russia's expense.

    • Don't joke about that.

      The original Gundam involved an incident where a space colony was dropped on Australia and wiped out Sydney. :( Now that we have an original Gundam unit sitting in tokyo....

  • by powerlord ( 28156 ) on Tuesday July 14, 2009 @01:10PM (#28693111) Journal

    Skylab parts fell on Esperance in 1979, but the space agency's refusal to pay $400 has resulted in an entertaining annual grudge.

    Just wait till they DeOrbit ISS in 2016. I think I know where the "miscalculated" orbit might end up.

    I expect the headline "Small New Zealand town vaporized as a result of Kilometer-Mile error made computing the ISS re-entry trajectory."

    • de-orbit != re-entry

      I expect the headline "ISS sets course for the Moon."
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by ctetc007 ( 875050 )
        Boosting it out of Earth orbit is much more expensive than doing a retro-burn to allow it to fall back to Earth. Do leave orbit, you have to give it enough energy to reach escape velocity. To have it fall back to Earth, just a "small" nudge to slow down and come back down.
        • Sure. But they said de-orbit not re-enter. So no.
          • re-enter is a subset of de-orbit. So most probably yes.
          • de-orbit - v.: to remove from orbit

            If the ISS is somehow hurled out into space, is it still in orbit? No.

            If the ISS is allowed to let Earth's gravity do its thing, is it still in orbit? No.

            Now tell me, which do you think is cheaper & easier: to shuttle a bunch of fuel out to the ISS, then use that fuel to rocket that thing out of orbit in such a way that it flies off into space? Or to use what fuel it already has onboard to send the ISS, one module at a time, into controlled re-entry?

            Please feel fre

            • by Xtifr ( 1323 )

              Shh! You're going to blow his chance to try to look smart by showing off half-baked knowledge misinterpreted from something he heard in passing, probably on a third-rate Skiffy B-movie (possibly on the Skiffy, er, Sci-Fi, er, SyFy Channel). How can he lord it over his equally ignorant peers when they come to visit his mom's basement if you're going to bring up something as irrelevant as facts!?

              Although one could argue that objects on the surface of the Earth still move in a more-or-less elliptical path ar

              • Chance? I didn't write the article that chose not to use the word re-ent[ry|er]. I simply commented on the author's choice of the word de-orbit. I guess that you being my peer... sorry, SORRY equally ignorant peer... were too stupid to pick up on that.
                • by Xtifr ( 1323 )

                  I picked up on what happened just fine--it was pointed out that you were wrong, and that "de-orbit" was a valid, correct, and even standard term to use there, and you still don't seem to get it.

      • by maxume ( 22995 )

        The Apollo missions put about 30,000 kg into lunar orbit. ISS has a mass just above 300,000 kg.

        So it is entirely possible, but it sounds awful expensive.

      • by mfrank ( 649656 )
        It would take too much fuel for them to move it away from Earth. They will deorbit it so it re-enters over the Pacific. They didn't do it with Skylab because they didn't have rockets/fuel to control when and where it re-entered.
        • I believe NASA had a plan to safely deorbit Skylab however the outer atmosphere expanded due to a strong sunspot cycle on the sun, resulting in more drag and fireworks over central Australia. IIRC another fragment was found this decade on a remote cattle station, but NASA weren't interested in getting it back.
          • NASA planned on continuing use of Skylab, in fact one of the first missions for the Space Shuttle was to boost Skylab into a much higher orbit. That mission would have been No. 2 or 3, if I recall correctly, before the Shuttle was "certified" for anything other that testing. Unfortunately, as you said, atmospheric drag was higher than expected and the thing crashed before the first flight of the Shuttle, due to delays in the Shuttle program.

            It's really a pity, too- either original plan would have saved Sk
    • No doubt caused by conversion error, miles to kilometers.
    • I live in New Zealand, you insensitive clod!
    • Well NZ survived having the Apollo 13 LM almost dropped on them. Maybe they will get lucky.
  • Interest? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ctetc007 ( 875050 ) on Tuesday July 14, 2009 @01:22PM (#28693273) Homepage
    What about the accrued interest on the fine? I also wonder, if they had not dropped the fine, could there have been some sort of arrest warrant, and who would've been the one to arrest?
  • Hometown publicity (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SwingMonkey ( 1420805 ) on Tuesday July 14, 2009 @01:32PM (#28693449)
    I had to comment, just because it's pretty damn rare for my hometown to get a mention anywhere, let along on Slashdot :P This was a pretty big event at the time - Nasa had a team of people on the ground and were aksing for bits of debris to be bought in for analysis. My mother took a few pieces in and forgot about it, several months later they sent them back mounted on a nice wall plaque identifying which part of the space station it was from :)
  • the number of posters to this story who don't realize that the fine was a joke.

    • by deniable ( 76198 )
      Yeah, but we got a foreigner to pay it. Bonus points. (Actually, knowing councils, some poor bugger is still trying to sort out the paperwork.)
  • by Dr_Ken ( 1163339 ) on Tuesday July 14, 2009 @02:07PM (#28693937) Journal
    Foreign governments don't pay their parking tics in NYC or Washington either mainly because they don't have to. Diplomatic immunity bars local gov from messing with them. Also It would be interesting to send a FOIA request to NASA to see if the town ever went through proper diplomatic channels to make a claim against the US gov.
    • by Dunbal ( 464142 )

      Also It would be interesting to send a FOIA request to NASA to see if the town ever went through proper diplomatic channels to make a claim against the US gov.

            I don't seem to remember Skylab spending any time in Australian customs and excise, or being reviewed by an inspector, before entering Australian territory, either.

            Your post is silly.

    • by deniable ( 76198 ) on Wednesday July 15, 2009 @07:29AM (#28701705)
      Read this [] as an example. The fine was a joke. Jimmy Carter called the local roadhouse to apologise. They probably had the whole population of Balladonia around the phone.
  • Get off my lawn (Score:5, Informative)

    by bigredradio ( 631970 ) on Tuesday July 14, 2009 @03:24PM (#28694913) Homepage Journal
    So I started to read the article and immediately thought "oh yeah, I remember when that came down". Then I read the part about the 30yr Anniversary. Damn I am getting old.
  • "two small towns at opposite ends of the Pacific"? Esperance is 3000+km from the Pacific.
  • So... (Score:2, Interesting)

      How much money has that town made off of that particular bit of random fame?

      I'll bet it is a helluva lot more than the fine.

      (How much did they spend on pursuing the claim... *g*)

      Humans are, for the most part, fucking idiots.

      (I have karma to burn, so go ahead and mod me down if you feel you have to. Ask me if I care, fools.)


    • by smash ( 1351 )
      Not the point. The point, I think is that irrespective of whether or not you're a foreign entity, whilst having a presence on another country, you obey their laws. NASA dropped shit on our country (littering), they should pay for it.

      I'm sure if the roles were reversed, and Australia fired a piece of junk over at the USA, we'd have a pack of angry citizens out for blood.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Then maybe there is something to be said about having a uniform code of law, on a global basis.

          Not that it's likely to happen in our lifetimes.

          While we're at it, we could put caps on damage awards, too.

          You do realize that my comment was meant in jest?


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