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Arizona 'meteor hunter' helps recover SpaceX debris in Washington

Posted at 7:50 PM, May 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-13 22:50:18-04

PRESCOTT, AZ — Arizona's "Space Cowboy" was once again out wrangling space debris.

"If anything falls out of the sky, I find it fascinating and needs to be recovered," says Robert Ward, a meteor hunter from Prescott. He's been chasing fireballs since he was a teenager in Bullhead City.

Since then, his passion has taken him almost everywhere.

“I basically spin the globe, put your finger down, if there isn't water there, I might be there in 48 hours," he said.

Recently, his adventures took him to Washington state, where large pieces of SpaceX's "Falcon 9" rocket accidentally crashed.

The rockets carry SpaceX's Starlink satellites that can be seen at times over the nighttime sky.

For three weeks, Robert was on the ground, pinpointing the location of the debris and eventually retrieving two pressure vessels that were part of the rocket.

He was originally going to ship them back to SpaceX, but due to the size and weight of the vessels, he decided to drive back to Arizona with them.

"At that point, I said, 'you know what, I’m going to have to change my rental agreement and drive back to Arizona because there’s no way I can ship these things,'" he said laughingly.

SpaceX officials went to his home in Prescott to retrieve the tanks. Robert said the experience has been unique and interesting.

He's enjoying family time for now, but if he hears of more space debris or meteorites, he'll be on the hunt for them once again.

“We’re overdue in the United States for a big one, so fingers crossed. Maybe it’s tonight, maybe it’s 10 minutes from now. Maybe it’s next week. I'm keeping my bags packed,” he said.