A tool bag finds itself in an orbital journey around Earth, and no, it’s not the punchline of an Elon Musk joke.
This peculiar incident occurred during a routine spacewalk by NASA astronauts Jasmin Moghbeli and Loral O’Hara on November 1.
What started as a joint mission to replace bearings and remove communication equipment ended with unintentionally releasing a tool bag into Earth’s orbit.
Dr. Meganne Christian, a member of the European Space Agency’s 2022 astronaut class, shared footage from Moghbeli’s space suit, capturing the moment the tool bag slipped away, prompting a futile scramble to retrieve it.
Despite the astronauts’ best efforts, the tool bag, officially known as a “crew lock bag” in NASA parlance, ventured into space beyond human reach.
Contrary to what one might expect, the tool bag did not disappear into the vastness of space without a trace.
Astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard Center for Astrophysics confirmed that the US Space Force had cataloged the bag as 58229/1998-067WC and was actively tracked as a new orbital object.
The tool bag, not in a stable orbit, is anticipated to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere in a few months.
McDowell assures that upon re-entry, the bag will burn completely, posing no risk to anyone on the ground.
A photo of the load taken by Japanese ISS resident Satoshi Furukawa as the ISS passed over Japan adds a visual dimension to this unusual space drama.
The Orbital Odyssey of a Lost Tool Bag
Interestingly, losing tools during spacewalks is not a new phenomenon. Fifteen years ago, astronaut Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper experienced a similar mishap during a mission in November 2008.
The lost bag at that time contained “two grease guns, scrapers, several wipes and tethers, and some tool caddies,” according to NASA records.
Dana Weigel, International Space Station deputy program manager for NASA, commented on the incident, stating that crew lock bags often carry ancillary tools.
While unfortunate, the loss of such items, including tool sockets similar to joint household sockets, is not deemed a significant impact. Replacement tools were promptly sent to the ISS on a recent resupply mission, arriving before the lost bag could descend back to Earth.
For those intrigued by the fate of this celestial tool bag, there is an opportunity to witness its journey before it meets its fiery end. With the proper equipment and timing, observers can spot the bag as it orbits Earth.
The bag’s brightness, at magnitude six, is just at the edge of the eye’s unaided visibility limit under perfect conditions. Binoculars are recommended for a clearer view, and enthusiasts can track its path online or through recently launched mobile apps.
The accidental release of a tool bag into orbit adds a touch of human unpredictability to the vastness of space. While the incident may raise eyebrows, it serves as a reminder of the complexities and challenges inherent in space exploration.
As the lost bag continues its orbital journey, astronomers and space enthusiasts can seize a unique opportunity to witness a fleeting chapter in the ongoing saga of human endeavors beyond Earth.