Lost in space: astronaut’s toolbag orbits Earth after escaping during spacewalk


Skywatchers have a new space object to train their sights on: a toolbag that is now floating through space around Earth.

Nasa astronauts Jasmin Moghbeli and Loral O’Hara were conducting a rare all-female spacewalk outside the International Space Station (ISS) on 1 November when their toolbag gave them the slip, according to Nasa.

The astronauts, both on their first spacewalk, were making repairs on assemblies that allow the ISS solar arrays to track the sun continuously, reported SciTechDaily, which was documenting the spacewalk.

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“During the activity, one tool bag was inadvertently lost. Flight controllers spotted the tool bag using external station cameras. The tools were not needed for the remainder of the spacewalk. Mission Control analyzed the bag’s trajectory and determined that risk of recontacting the station is low and that the onboard crew and space station are safe with no action required,” said Nasa on its blog.

The white, satchel-like bag is surprisingly bright, shining just below the limit of visibility to the naked eye, which means observers would be able to spot it using binoculars, according to EarthSky. Its visual magnitude is around a 6, making it slightly less bright than the ice giant Uranus.

To track the bag, observers need only to find the ISS, which is the third-brightest object in the night sky, according to Nasa, and can be located using the agency’s Spot the Station tool. The bag will be orbiting Earth two to four minutes ahead of the ISS.

The bag was spotted floating over Mount Fuji last week by Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa.

Astronaut Meganne Christian confirmed it was being tracked.

The lost space gear should remain in orbit for a few months before rapidly descending and meeting its doom in the fiery inferno that is Earth’s atmosphere. According to EarthSky, preliminary estimates indicate the toolbag should reenter the atmosphere around March 2024.

This isn’t the first time an object has been lost in space, nor even the first toolbag lost. In 2008, Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper watched as her bag drifted off during an attempt to fix a damaged part on the ISS. The loss of that bag caused mission controllers to change plans for the remaining spacewalks planned during the space shuttle Endeavor’s mission.

And, in 2006, late astronaut Piers Sellers lost his spatula to the depths of space while testing a heat shield repair technique, according to Space.com. Sellers, who was using the tool to spread the sticky heat shield goo onto intentionally damaged samples, lamented the loss at the time: “That was my favorite spatch … don’t tell the other spatulas.”