Lost Nasa tool bag now orbiting Earth after drifting away during space station repairs

The errant bag should be visible to human eyes using binoculars or a telescope

Io Dodds
San Francisco
Tuesday 14 November 2023 00:06 GMT
Astronauts drop toolbox during space walk

If you look up into the sky tonight, you might just be able to spot an unusual new star.

Alongside the constellations that have awed humanity for millennia, an errant tool bag is now orbiting planet Earth after wandering off during a spacewalk on the International Space Station (ISS).

Nasa astronauts Jasmin Moghbeli and Loral O'Hara misplaced the bag while fixing a solar panel on station's exterior on 1 November, the space agency said in a blog post.

According to the space news website EarthSky, the bag reflects enough light to be visible from the ground for humans using binoculars – at least until it burns up in Earth's atmosphere in a few months' time.

"During the activity, one tool bag was inadvertently lost," said Nasa, with characteristic sangfroid.

A Japanese astronaut inadvertently snapped the wandering tool bag while taking orbital photos of Mt Fuji

Flight controllers spotted the bag using the station's external cameras, then analysed its trajectory to see if it posed any danger.

Happily, they determined that the risk of it striking the station again is "low", and that the station's crew are "safe with no action required".

The tool bag has now reportedly been catalogued as space debris #58229 / 1998-067WC, and is orbiting just ahead of the ISS itself.

A video posted online by Dr Meganne Christian of the UK Space Agency appears to show the tool bag tumbling past the camera and bouncing off part of the station, while an astronaut's hand reaches out to grasp it.

Jasmin Moghbeli, front right, prepares to board the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket alongside her crew on 26 August, 2023

It was then photographed accidentally by Satoshi Furukawa, a Japanese astronaut aboard the ISS, while taking orbital photos of Mt Fuji.

“It wanted to see Mount Fuji, I guess," Ms Moghbeli reportedly told Mission Control the next day.

Ms Moghbeli and Ms O'Hara arrived on the ISS on 27 August courtesy of Elon Musk’s private space company SpaceX, forming a rare all-female Nasa contingent aboard the station. Both were first-time spacewalkers.

Various objects have been lost by astronauts during spacewalks over the decades, including a spare glove in 1965, another tool bag in 2008, and a 1.5m debris shield that was being installed on the ISS in 2017.

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