By Alec Liu
Published February 16, 2013
What’s it like to get hit by falling space junk? Ask Lottie Williams. (Lottie Williams)
And you thought lightning strikes were rare.
A defunct NASA satellite is set to plunge to Earth, with a 1-in-3,200 chance that someone could get hurt, according to the space agency. That has many wondering: What’s it like to get hit with a piece of space junk?
Lottie Williams — perhaps the only person in history to ever get hit by falling space junk — knows the answer. Back in January of 1997, she and two friends were walking through a park in Tulsa, Oklahoma around 3:30 a.m. when they saw a huge fireball streaking from the skies.
“We were stunned, in awe,” Williams told FoxNews.com. She thought she’d just witnessed a shooting star. “It was beautiful.”
Less than thirty minutes later, that awe turned to fear.
“We were still walking through the park when I felt a tapping on my shoulder,” Williams explained. With no one near her at the time, she started to run, thinking a stranger had appeared out of the shadows. Then she heard something hit the ground behind her.
“The weight was comparable to an empty soda can,” Williams told FoxNews.com. “It looked like a piece of fabric except when you tap it, it sounded metallic.” Williams was sure she’d found a piece of a shooting star.
Excited by her discovery, she took the fallen piece of sky to her local library where she was referred to the astronomy club (given her space-rock theory), as well as the National Weather Service — who told her about a Delta II rocket that had re-entered the atmosphere the night before.
Beginning to realize what had happened, Williams took the piece to the University of Tulsa where Dr. Winton Cornell, an applied associate professor in the Department of Geosciences, studied it with an electron microscope and blasted it with X-rays.
“It had been partly melted and resembled fiberglass. It appeared to be the kind of material NASA used to insulate fuel tanks,” Cornell told FoxNews.com.
Williams then sent it CORD (the Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies), where they did further analysis confirming the piece of blackened, woven material to be part of the fuel tank of a Delta II rocket that had launched a U.S. Air Force satellite in 1996.
She is now featured on the site as the only individual to be struck by space debris.
Williams also claims to have talked to NASA and even received a letter from the deputy secretary of defense — though today she can’t find it — apologizing for what happened while not actually admitting where the piece of material actually came from.
“A lot of people thought it was a hoax,” Williams said.
“I just want people to know this actually happened.”