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Space Balls

In early April 1971, two strange metal balls were found in southeastern North Dakota. Both weighed about 20 lbs with faded stripes. They were very hot and about 15 inches in diameter. One, found by Corwin Brumond, had a hole five inches in diameter, and the other, found east of Oakes by Mike Michel, had a hole six inches in diameter. It was later learned that two others had been found, one near Engevale and one near Litchville.

These North Dakota oddities aren't unique. There have been quite a few of these mysterious spheres or "space balls" found in the United States and around the world. So, what are these strange things?

While some people were inclined to suspect alien UFO technology, the balls are actually a special kind of space debris that held helium as part of a spacecraft's propulsion system. 

On this date in '71 the Oakes Times reported the explanation. According to Oakes native Irving Tedin, a space project manager in Huntsville, Alabama, the mysterious balls had fallen from a US Experimental Satellite, the Agena spacecraft. The Agena was multi-purpose docking vehicle used in the Gemini program. Made of titanium, the balls are able to survive the reentry from orbit. Similar balls from the space craft of other countries have also been found. In addition to space balls, larger steel propellant tanks and pieces of thermal blankets are also known to make it back to Earth.

So, what are your chances of being hit by space debris? One estimate suggests there's a one in 3,200 chance of someone getting hit, but the chance of any given individual being hit is one in several trillion!

By Tessa Sandstrom


Dickey County Historical Society. History of Dickey County. 1976.

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