Rocket debris found on beach goes to museum

By Michelle Paynter - bio | email

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, SC (WTOC) - Remember when a rocket fender washed ashore a couple months ago on Hilton Head Island? Many say it was one of the most intriguing things to happen there this summer.

A large piece of a Atlas V rocket washed up at Palmetto Dunes on May 22.

On Tuesday, that piece of rocket was unveiled at the Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn on Hilton Head.

The giant piece of a rocket can still draw a crowd. Lisa Nocks and her family are vacationing from Ohio. Nocks said that when they heard part of a space ship was going on display at the museum, they couldn't pass it up.

"We thought it was really unique to come and see something different that had washed ashore," Nocks said. "Usually we see horseshoe crabs, shells, but come on, a rocket, that's cool!"

It turns out this rocket was launched April 22 from Cape Canaveral in Florida. Michael Rein from United Launch Alliance, the company that owns the rocket, drove up to Hilton Head to try to explain how part of the rocket's faring ended up on the beach.

"The plan was for the faring to come back, hit the water with such a force that they break up and the pieces sink to the bottom. This is the way it's been done for 50 years. Somehow this piece got caught in the current, 550-575 miles later it washed up on your shore," Rein said.

Rein said having rocket debris wash ashore is rare. He is excited to see this piece of space junk has become a real treasure.

"I think the neatest thing about it is if we can introduce any new community to science and technology and take the mystery out of it, it think it's a great thing," said Rein.

And even better seeing young people who leave wanting to know more. Like Nocks' 13-year-old son, Alexander, and her 9-year-old daughter, Katherine.

"They love science," said Nocks. "And for them to see something like this, they are pretty amazed by it."

The museum said the rocket faring will be on display for the next three to five months or as long as there is a interest from the community.

For more information about the Coastal Discovery Museum visit

Copyright 2010 WTOC. All rights reserved.