Lost in Orbit: Astronauts' Toolbag Becomes Celestial Spectacle After Spacewalk Mishap
© AP Photo In this photo provided by NASA, backdropped against clouds over Earth, the International Space Station is seen from Space Shuttle Discovery as the two orbital spacecraft accomplish their relative separation on March 7, 2011
© AP Photo
Their toolbag, used for repairs on the International Space Station (ISS), slipped away into the vastness of space, joining a quirky list of lost items including a spatula and other toolbags.
Skywatchers worldwide have a new cosmic attraction as a toolbag from a recent all-female spacewalk orbits Earth, adding an unexpected chapter to the history of lost objects in space. NASA astronauts Jasmin Moghbeli and Loral O'Hara were on their first spacewalk, repairing assemblies that enable the ISS solar arrays to continuously track the sun when their toolbag decided to embark on its solo journey.
Flight controllers identified the runaway toolbag through external station cameras and determined that its trajectory posed a low risk of recontacting the ISS. The astronauts, as well as the space station, were declared safe with no immediate action required. The bright, satchel-like bag, visible with binoculars, has a visual magnitude slightly less bright than Uranus, making it a unique spectacle for sky gazers.
13 November, 23:51 GMT
To track the toolbag, observers can locate the ISS, the third-brightest object in the night sky, using NASA's Spot the Station tool. The bag orbits Earth a few minutes ahead of the ISS, and last week, Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa spotted it floating over Mount Fuji, confirming that it's being tracked by the astronaut community.
Despite its celestial journey, the toolbag's days are numbered. It is expected to remain in orbit for a few months before making a fiery re-entry into Earth's atmosphere around March 2024.
This peculiar incident recalls past spacewalk mishaps, such as in 2008 when Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper lost her toolbag, leading to changes in mission plans. Additionally, in 2006, astronaut Piers Sellers bid farewell to his spatula in the depths of space while testing a heat shield repair technique, leaving a unique mark on spacewalk history.