A novel celestial object has caught the attention of sky observers: a toolbag adrift in space around Earth. In the course of a rare all-female spacewalk executed by NASA astronauts Jasmin Moghbeli and Loral O’Hara on November 1, their toolbag slipped away, according to NASA. The astronauts, both on their inaugural spacewalk, were conducting repairs on components that enable the ISS solar arrays to continually track the sun, as documented by SciTechDaily.
“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 analysed the bag’s trajectory and determined that the 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 toolbag, resembling a white satchel, exhibits surprising brightness, just below the threshold of visibility to the naked eye. This brightness allows observers to spot it using binoculars, with a visual magnitude of around 6, slightly less bright than the ice giant Uranus, according to EarthSky. To track the bag, observers can locate the ISS, the third-brightest object in the night sky, using NASA’s Spot the Station tool. The bag orbits Earth two to four minutes ahead of the ISS.
Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa spotted the bag floating over Mount Fuji last week, confirming its tracking, as noted by astronaut Meganne Christian. The lost toolbag is expected to remain in orbit for some months before descending rapidly and meeting its demise in Earth’s atmospheric inferno. Preliminary estimates suggest the toolbag should reenter the atmosphere around March 2024, according to EarthSky.
— Dr Meganne Christian (@astro_meganne) November 5, 2023
This incident is not the first time an object has been lost in space, nor is it the first occurrence of a lost toolbag. In 2008, Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper experienced a similar incident during an attempt to repair a damaged part on the ISS, altering plans for subsequent spacewalks. Additionally, in 2006, astronaut Piers Sellers lost his spatula while testing a heat shield repair technique.