The Wikipedia article on the city of Esperance states:

In 1979, pieces of the space station Skylab crashed onto Esperance after the craft broke up over the Indian Ocean. The municipality fined the United States $400 for littering. The fine was paid in April 2009, when radio show host Scott Barley of Highway Radio raised the funds from his morning show listeners, and paid the fine on behalf of NASA.

The fact that a radio show collected the money to pay the fine on behalf of NASA 30 years later implies that NASA denied this fine.

But Skylab was unquestionably property of and a project of NASA, so by any law I can think of, the claim for compensation would be legal. Not to talk about about a laughable amount of $400 due to littering the city. I mean, NASA has to pay billions a year for its projects. Why should they refuse to pay $400 for something caused undoubtedly by them?

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    Perhaps NASA didn't even know they were supposed to pay off $400 to some random island in the Indian Ocean. Aug 15, 2016 at 22:30
  • The question "why should they refuse" might be your way of suggesting that the claim is dubious, but actually trying to determine why they refused (if they did) would be beyond the scope of this site. Aug 16, 2016 at 3:26
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    @JanDvorak: Esperance isn't an island, it's a town on the mainland of Australia. Aug 16, 2016 at 3:28
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    Apologies for that, but my point still stands - nowhere does it say (or at least not in the quoted part) that NASA actively refused to pay the fine. Perhaps they didn't get to know about the fine, or perhaps they shrugged it off as a joke. TBH, $400 seems like nothing compared to the actual damage I would expect a fuel tank falling on a city to cause. The wiki article on Skylab uses the term "facetiously fined NASA". Aug 16, 2016 at 3:44
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    @Bakuriu: AFAIK there is an international consense about space exploration that damage caused by an object in any case the liability to it is in hands of the one who shot it up in space/controlled it from there. Otherwise I could assume other states might not tolerate it so much letting space vehicles pass over there lands. I mean I could understand if it where Northkorea who would argue that they have no obligation to pay any fines. but this is Australia and USA. Why should this international consense here not apply?
    – Zaibis
    Aug 17, 2016 at 6:46

1 Answer 1


Yes, NASA refused to pay a littering fine in 1979, BUT it seems that the Shire of Esperance (the municipality in question) never really expected NASA to pay.

First of all, NASA did know about the ticket, and it also clearly shows the ticket was given in jest.

According to It's Only Rocket Science (emphasize mine):

When the US space laboratory, Skylab fell to the Earth in 1979, it scattered debris not only across the southern Indian Ocean but also across sparsely populated areas in Western Australia. NASA was fined AU$400 for littering in Australia. This was not paid however, as the ticket was issued in "fun". J.M. Jones, the public affairs office for the Marshall Space flight Centre at the time, accompanied the Skylab investigation team on their trip to Australia. His personal report on the trip was published in the Johnson Space Centre Newsletter Roundup on August 10, 1979 (Vol. 19, No 16). He said:

Upon our arrival, the president of the shire (county) 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.

LUCY ROGERS - It's ONLY Rocket Science: An Introduction in Plain English

From the local newspaper (emphasize mine):

Shire of Esperance executive manager of corporate services Darren Kennedy said the shire sometimes received emails asking if the story of the unpaid fine was true.


“I always write back with a standard email saying that the fine was written off in 1979 and usually I wouldn’t hear anymore."


Senior vice president of the Esperance Bay Historical Society and Esperance shire president at the time of the Skylab crash, Merv Andre, said the crash and fine gave the town worldwide publicity.

The littering fine was given by the ranger as a bit of a lark1,” he said.

NASA declined to pay it and after three months, the infringement was written off, but it hasn’t been forgotten!”

HANNAH SIEMER - Littering fine paid - The Esperance Express - 17 Apr, 2009

1Lark: something done for fun, especially something mischievous or daring; an amusing adventure or escapade.

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    For those wondering, yes, Australians have a sense of humour.
    – Golden Cuy
    Jun 15, 2017 at 9:59
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    @AndrewGrimm [Citation needed] Jun 15, 2017 at 10:05
  • @Jordy - Here's a citation for you. Unfortunately it's a secondary source, but I can't be bothered to follow the links to the primary sources.
    – AndyT
    Jun 15, 2017 at 11:01
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    @AndyT that's not a citation. This is a citation.
    – Golden Cuy
    Jun 15, 2017 at 11:50
  • @Jordy - How could they not have a sense of humor?? ruralweekly.com.au/news/… Jun 20, 2017 at 19:20

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