In a recent spacewalk, NASA astronauts Jasmin Moghbeli and Loral O’Hara faced an unforeseen challenge when they accidentally let a tool bag drift into space. This incident occurred during their maintenance work on the International Space Station’s solar arrays, marking their first spacewalk.
The spacewalk, which lasted six hours and 42 minutes, involved tasks related to the station’s solar arrays that track the sun. However, due to time constraints, the astronauts were unable to complete the removal and stowing of a communications electronics box, leaving it for a future mission. During their assessment of this task, the tool bag slipped away and was lost in space.
NASA’s flight controllers, using the ISS’ external cameras, observed the floating tool bag. They analyzed its trajectory and concluded that the risk of it recontacting the station was low, ensuring the safety of the crew and the ISS. The tools in the bag were not necessary for the remainder of their tasks.
This is not the first instance of tools being lost during spacewalks. In 2008, astronaut Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper lost a tool bag while working on a malfunctioning rotary joint. Similarly, in 2006, astronauts Piers Sellers and Michael Fossum lost a spatula during a space shuttle repair test.
The tool bag, now part of the space debris orbiting Earth, can potentially be spotted from Earth with binoculars in the coming months before it disintegrates in the atmosphere. Space debris, consisting of non-functional artificial materials orbiting Earth, poses a growing concern. As of September 2023, the European Space Agency estimated that over 35,290 objects were being tracked, with a total mass exceeding 11,000 tons.
This incident underscores the challenges and unpredictability of space missions, as well as the increasing issue of space debris, which continues to accumulate around our planet.