Part of European Rocket Discovered in the Florida Keys

The piece from an Arianespace rocket, the commercial space transportation company, is believed to have been from a mission conducted sometime in the past two years.

Tuesday, Jul 9, 2013  |  Updated 5:11 PM PDT
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Part of European Rocket Discovered in the Florida Keys

Glenn Simpson/National Park Service

The Ariane 5 rocket was part of a European Space Agency project.

A part of a rocket weighing several hundred pounds washed up in the Florida Keys and was found floating by shark researchers, said Arianespace, the European consortium that launches commercial satellites.

The part is believed to have been from a mission conducted sometime in the past two years, the Miami Herald reported.

When the rockets are launched, they are supposed to break apart and sink in the Atlantic Ocean, but this piece remained intact, traveling hundreds of miles to an area about 70 miles west of Key West, according to the report.

"Ordinarily the fairing sinks to the ocean floor, becoming an artificial reef. From time to time, a strong ocean current washes one ashore," said Aaron Lewis, communications director for Arianespace Inc. in Washington, D.C.

Wes and Theo Pratt found the piece on July 4th after they had kayaked the half-mile from Garden Key in Key West in hopes of studying sharks, the report said.

But after finding the rocket part in the sand, they shifted their focus. They asked for help from a ranger at Dry Tortugas National Park, but were still unable to get the piece out of the water, according to the report.

Instead, they tied a light to the large object and waited for the high tide. The piece floated and they were finally able to tow it out of the water, the report said.

They took pictures and the park manager researched the origins of the piece. That’s when they realized they had found a piece of a European rocket, according to the report.

"It is part of the fairing, or 'nose cone,' of an Ariane 5 launch vehicle," Lewis said. "The Ariane 5 — which is manufactured in Europe — is launched from a state of the art facility in Kourou, French Guiana in South America."

The piece will be temporarily on display in Garden Key before the park figures out how to dispose of it, the report said.

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