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NASA astronauts Jasmin Moghbeli and Loral O’Hara marked their first spacewalk this month with a tool bag floating through space.
The pair concluded their maintenance work outside the International Space Station (ISS) in six hours and 42 minutes, according to the space agency.
The spacewalk on November 1 saw Moghbeli and O’Hara complete works on the station’s solar arrays, which track the sun, but they ran out of time to remove and stow a communications electronics box. Leaving this task for a future spacewalk, the pair instead conducted an assessment of how the job could be done.
During the hours-long mission, a tool bag gave them the slip and was “lost,” NASA said, with flight controllers spotting it using the ISS’ external cameras. Fortunately, the tools were not required for the remainder of their tasks.
“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,” NASA said on its official blog.
According to EarthSky, a website tracking cosmic events, the tool bag is currently orbiting Earth ahead of the ISS, and can potentially be spotted from Earth with a pair of binoculars during the next few months until it disintegrates in our planet’s atmosphere.
This isn’t the first time an astronaut has lost tools in space. In 2008, Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper’s bag floated away while she was cleaning and lubricating gears on a malfunctioning rotary joint. A 2006 spacewalk saw astronauts Piers Sellers and Michael Fossum lose a 14-inch spatula while testing a method of repairing the space shuttle.
Space debris or junk, like these objects, are artificial materials that orbit Earth but are no longer functional. They can be anything from a small chip of paint to parts discarded during rocket launches.
In September 2023, the European Space Agency estimated 35,290 objects were being tracked and cataloged by the various space surveillance networks, with the total mass of objects orbiting Earth amounting to more than 11,000 tons.
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