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NASA's Unpaid $400 Littering Ticket For Skylab Debris in Australia

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NASA

In 1973, NASA made its first attempt at an orbital space station with Skylab. The project, which had to eventually be abandoned before falling back to Earth, cost an estimated $2.2 billion, though one expense was left unpaid for over three decades: a $400 littering ticket issued by a park service official in Western Australia.

The events that would lead to this fine were set into motion with Skylab’s rockier-than-expected launch in 1973, when the (at the time unmanned) research lab suffered severe damage to its meteorite shield and solar panels.

The first crew to visit Skylab spent their 28-day mission conducting repairs, and the station eventually managed to host two more teams of astronauts over the following year. Once the final team returned to Earth in 1974, Skylab was left unoccupied as high solar activity reduced the station’s orbital altitude. Unable to give it a boost in time, NASA planned to let Skylab reenter the atmosphere and fall back to Earth in 1979.

The plan worked. Debris that hadn’t completely disintegrated during reentry scattered into the Indian Ocean and across a sparsely populated section of rural Australia. No one was hurt, but NASA wasn’t completely off the hook. When members of the Skylab investigation team visited the Shire of Esperance in Western Australia to inspect the damage and collect the station remnants, they were greeted with a $400 ticket for littering.

Marshall Space Flight Center public affairs representative J.M. Jones relayed the story of their trip to Australia and Skylab’s minor municipal offense in a 1979 NASA newsletter:

“Upon our arrival, the president of the shire had arranged a mock ceremony in which an officer of the parks service ticketed NASA for littering, the evidence having been found all about the country-side.”

The ticket was issued as a gag and in good fun, and NASA never paid off the $400 fine. In 2009, 30 years after Skylab’s reentry, California radio DJ Scott Barley asked listeners to donate money so they could finally clear NASA’s books. Though the mayor of Esperance told Barley the ticket had been “written off years ago,” he and his listeners cobbled together the $400 and sent it to the shire. For his efforts, Barley was invited to Esperance and received a key to the city.

NASA, to its credit, hasn't littered in the Shire of Esperance since the Skylab incident.

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History
When Chuck Yeager Tweeted Details About His Historic, Sound Barrier-Breaking Flight

Seventy years ago today—on October 14, 1947—Charles Elwood Yeager became the first person to travel faster than the speed of sound. The Air Force pilot broke the sound barrier in an experimental X-1 rocket plane (nicknamed “Glamorous Glennis”) over a California dry lake at an altitude of 25,000 feet.

In 2015, the nonagenarian posted a few details on Twitter surrounding the anniversary of the achievement, giving amazing insight into the history-making flight.

For even more on the historic ride, check out the video below.

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Wellcome Images, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0
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Space
8 Facts About the Accomplished Female Astronomer Caroline Herschel
Wellcome Images, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0
Wellcome Images, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0

Caroline Herschel (1750–1848) was a German woman who made great contributions to science and astronomy. 

1. SHE WAS THE FIRST WOMAN TO DISCOVER A COMET.

Herschel spotted the comet (called 35P/Herschel-Rigollet) in December of 1788. Because its orbital period is 155 years, 35P/Herschel-Rigollet will next be visible to humans in the year 2092.

2. SHE INITIALLY WORKED AS A HOUSEKEEPER.

In her early twenties, Herschel moved from Germany to England to be a singer. Her brother William (the astronomer who discovered the planet Uranus and infrared radiation) gave her singing lessons, and she was his housekeeper. She later became his assistant, grinding and polishing the mirrors for his telescopes.

3. BUT SHE LATER TURNED HER REAL PASSION INTO A PAYING GIG.

Herschel was the first female scientist to ever be paid for her work. Starting in 1787, King George III paid her £50 per year to reward her for her scientific discoveries.

4. SHE WAS TECHNICALLY A LITTLE PERSON.

Herschel was only 4 feet 3 inches tall—her growth was stunted due to typhus when she was 10 years old.

5. SHE BROKE BARRIERS, EARNING RESPECT FROM THE HERETOFORE MALE-ONLY SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY.

Herschel was the first woman to receive a Gold Medal from London’s Royal Astronomical Society, in 1828. The second woman to receive one was well over 150 years later, in 1996.

6. SHE CHEATED AT MATH … KIND OF.

Because Herschel was female and thus wasn’t allowed to learn math as a child, she used a cheat sheet with the multiplication tables on it when she was working.

7. EARTH'S MOON HONORS HER LEGACY.


NASA/LRO_LROC_TEAM, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

A crater on the moon is named in honor of Herschel—it’s called C. Herschel. The small crater is located on the west side of Mare Imbrium, one of the moon's large rocky plains.

8. SHE GARNERED AWARDS WELL INTO HER NINETIES.

For her 96th birthday, Prussian King Frederick William IV authorized that Herschel receive an award: the Gold Medal for Science.

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