Space Junk Survivor

ByABC News
March 21, 2001, 10:45 PM

March 22 -- Scientists reckon the odds of being hit by a piece of falling space junk are around one in a trillion. Tulsa resident Lottie Williams was that unlucky one.

Williams, 48, was exercising in a Tulsa park one morning four years ago when she was hit on the shoulder by a six-inch piece of blackened metallic material.

A used Delta II rocket had crashed into the Earth's atmosphere half an hour earlier, and scientists at NASA believe that Williams was hit by a part of it making her the only person in the world known to have been hit by man-made space debris.

Her story is no comfort to Pacific Islanders nervous about the Mir space station, which is due to re-enter over the Pacific Ocean early Friday morning. Most of the station will burn up as it hits the atmosphere, but scientists say as much as 20 tons of debris will fall to Earth, in chunks weighing up to 1,500 pounds.

The leaders of 16 Pacific island nations have sought assurances that parts of Mir will not land on them. The Russian space agency is aiming to have the debris fall in unpopulated parts of the ocean.

Great Ball of Fire

Williams saw the rocket entering the atmosphere a half-hour before she was hit. She was out walking in the park with friends around 3:30 a.m., part of a regular routine she uses to get exercise around her work schedule, when they saw a flash in the sky.

"I noticed in the sky there was this big bright light, like a fire," she remembers. "I turned to my friends to say look and when I turned back it was coming towards us. I didn't say anything else. It was coming over the park and as it approached us it got bigger. All the colors that you see that come from fire, all those colors were there. It was like this big huge ball of fire, across this park."

Eventually, she says, the fireball shot off two sparks and disappeared over a building.

She initially thought she had seen a star. "I thought the two sparks was a star giving birth to new stars."

Blackened Fragment