Man finds several pieces of SpaceX rocket on Texas beach

It's not often that you walk along a beach and find pieces of a spaceship washed up on the sand, but that's just what wildlife expert Nick Stacey said he found along the south Texas coast. 

"We found four or five full, intact tiles, two or three partial half-tiles, and then probably a grocery sack full of small bits and stuff like that," he said.

The tiles make up the thermal shielding of a SpaceX rocket. Like in central Florida, SpaceX has another launch facility in Boca Chica, Texas, called Starbase. Stacey said it wasn’t unusual to find rocket debris on the beach. "I found a piece after the very first launch. Just kind of accidentally, just a random chunk. I saw somebody else posted that they found a single piece of it, too."

Stacey said SpaceX usually did a good job of cleaning up their rocket debris. He reached out to the company, asking if they wanted him to return the pieces he found. He said they sent back a reply stating that he could keep them, but asking for the locations where he recovered them.

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Space expert David Denault said under international law, any space debris remained the property of the countries and companies that built them. 

"So we have a space treaty. And that basically says that anything that is launched by a country, like the US, goes into orbit and eventually comes back to Earth, still belongs to the country that launched it," said Denault. "So you're not allowed to keep any space junk that comes back."

Under Florida law, anyone who finds space debris must report it to local officials, or they could face fines and charges. Denault said that also extended to private companies, like SpaceX and Blue Origin.

Stacey said since he'd been allowed to keep the stuff he found, he may try selling it online to raise money for the Fragile Planet Wildlife Park, which he helps run. "I'd really like to keep the first tile I found, but I’d love to either sell or auction off a lot of the other bits we found to benefit the wildlife park here."