NASA astronauts Jasmin Moghbeli and Loral O’Hara made headlines this month as they conducted their first spacewalk. However, the mission didn’t go entirely as planned as a tool bag was accidentally left floating in space. Despite this setback, the astronauts successfully completed maintenance work on the International Space Station’s solar arrays during their six-hour and 42-minute spacewalk on November 1.
Although the astronauts ran out of time to remove and stow a communications electronics box, they instead conducted an assessment of how the task could be done in the future. While this delay was unfortunate, NASA assures the public that the risk of the tool bag recontacting the station is low and that both the crew and the space station are out of harm’s way.
Interestingly, flight controllers were able to spot the lost tool bag using the ISS’ external cameras. The tools inside the bag were not necessary for the remainder of the astronauts’ tasks, thus minimizing any potential impact on their mission. Currently, the tool bag is still orbiting Earth ahead of the space station and can potentially be seen from the planet’s surface with binoculars until it disintegrates in the atmosphere.
This incident is not the first time that astronauts have lost tools in space. Previous incidents occurred in 2008 and 2006, highlighting the challenges and risks associated with working in microgravity environments. These lost tools contribute to the growing issue of space debris or junk that orbits Earth. Space debris refers to artificial materials that are no longer functional but continue to rotate around our planet. According to the European Space Agency, there are currently over 35,000 tracked and cataloged objects in orbit, weighing more than 11,000 tons.
The presence of such a significant amount of space debris poses concerns for future space missions and satellite launches. Efforts to mitigate this issue are ongoing, with organizations like NASA actively working on spacecraft design strategies that minimize the creation of additional debris. As we continue to explore the vast expanse of space, it is crucial to prioritize the responsible management of space debris to ensure the safety and sustainability of our activities beyond Earth’s atmosphere.