During a November 1 spacewalk, US astronauts Jasmin Moghbeli and Loral O’Hara accidentally lost a tool bag, according to NASA. The tool bag is now in orbit and has been given its own satellite catalog number. Stargazers have even captured video footage of the tool bag.
The tool bag is as bright as a 6th-magnitude star, making it visible through binoculars but not with the naked eye. Its visibility is due to its white, reflective surface. To spot the tool bag, one should first locate the International Space Station (ISS), as the object was approximately five minutes ahead of the ISS on November 11. This timing should stretch as the days pass.
Fortunately, the lost tool bag did not hinder the astronauts from completing their spacewalk tasks. The spacewalk involved cable adjustments and the replacement of a bearing on a solar panel, and the tool bag was not needed for the rest of the mission. NASA has assessed the bag’s trajectory and determined that it poses no threat to the ISS or its occupants.
Over the next few months, the tool bag is expected to circle closer to Earth before eventually disintegrating in the atmosphere. This presents a unique opportunity for those interested in observing space junk.
Interestingly, lost items during spacewalks have occurred before. In 2008, astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper dropped a tool bag, but no significant damage was done, and the bag eventually burned up. In 2017, astronauts dropped a fabric debris shield, which could have posed a threat to the ISS, but they were able to find a solution. Other incidents, such as the accidental loss of a spatula by British astronaut Piers Sellers in 2006, highlight the risk of accidents in space.
These incidents serve as anecdotes, but they also shed light on the growing problem of space junk orbiting Earth. The accumulation of space debris, now numbering in the millions, not only poses risks to space travel but also contributes to pollution on Earth.