Space-junk-Alsea-Bay

Commercial shrimpers recovered what’s believed to be space debris late last year in Alsea Bay near Waldport. SpaceX was unable to determine through photos if the debris came from one of its rockets, and the debris was removed from the area by authorities.

WALDPORT — Commercial shrimpers late last year found what’s believed to be part of a SpaceX rocket in Alsea Bay.

The night of March 25, Pacific Northwest residents saw remnants of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket stream through the sky like a cluster of meteors. Most of that debris crashed on a farm in central Washington’s Grant County.

According to a news release from the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, at about 3:15 p.m. on April 9, deputes learned of what was believed to be charred debris from a spacecraft that washed up in Alsea Bay in Waldport. The debris was removed from the bay by the shrimpers and briefly stored near a local business.

“My crew found this debris floating in the water while they were harvesting shrimp, and that was in late November or early December this past winter,” ShrimpDaddy’s Bait & Tackle Shack owner Mike Gatens told the News-Times on Tuesday. “The crew brought it inside, and my lead shrimper was all excited, saying it was space debris, and I was like, ‘no way, it’s not.’ I thought it was some kind of water-pressure tank.”

After Gatens saw reports of similar looking “space waste” determined to be from Flacon 9 that landed in Washington, he had a change of heart.

“Once I figured it really was space debris, I told the guys to get it out of the shop, and then it dawned on me that I should probably find out whose this is and what it’s all about,” he said.

Deputies responded to the location and set up an exclusion perimeter while the nature of the object was being assessed. Central Oregon Coast Fire & Rescue responded to the scene and determined the object was not an immediate hazardous materials threat. After further consultation with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, on April 9, Gatens contacted SpaceX.

“I tried to reach out to NASA and left a message, but nobody got back to me,” Gatens said. “I was able to make contact with SpaceX, and they wanted pictures of the object. They said they’d get back to me, and when he did get back to me, he said there was no way to tell whose it was.”

SpaceX was not able to determine if the object was a component of one of its spacecraft, however it did appear consistent with a composite-overwrapped pressure vessel. SpaceX engineers assessed numerous photographs and observations from deputies before determining the object could be safely transported.

The object was transported to a secure location for additional evaluation.

Reporter Michael Heinbach contributed to this story.

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