TechNASA spacewalk mishap results in floating tool bag debris

NASA spacewalk mishap results in floating tool bag debris

International Space Station - illustrative photo
International Space Station - illustrative photo
Images source: © NASA
ed. KMO

9:21 AM EST, November 10, 2023

Astronauts Jasmin Moghbeli and Lorala O'Hara, currently aboard the International Space Station (ISS), went on a spacewalk in early November to perform repair tasks on the station. During this operation, according to NASA's blog, an unexpected incident took place - the astronauts accidentally dropped a bag of tools.

NASA indicated that the spacewalk involving Moghbeli and O'Hara lasted 6 hours and 42 minutes. Their primary task was fixing certain parts of the International Space Station. During the operations, they lost a bag of tools, which flight controllers spotted on external cameras. However, NASA emphasized that these tools were not crucial for the completion of the spacewalk.

Lost Bag of Tools Becomes Space Debris

An ensuing analysis showed that the risk of the ISS encountering the fallen bag, now categorized as space junk, is minimal. The station and the onboard crew remain safe and there is no need for additional precautions. Astronauts' lost bag was included in the registry of known artificial objects in space as 58229/1998-067WC.

The International Space Station, orbiting approximately 261 miles above Earth, has occasionally adjusted its position to avoid space debris. Recently, near the end of 2021, it successfully avoided a fragment from the Pegasus rocket, launched in the '90s by the United States. This precision in maneuvering prevented a collision, which could have severely damaged the ISS and its personnel.

Space debris presents a significant risk, and with the increasing number of space missions, the amount of debris is steadily rising. Global space agencies are tracking over 23,000 pieces of space junk in low Earth orbit to pre-empt potential collisions. Most of these remain the size of a baseball and beyond. Detecting smaller pieces zipping through space at high speeds is far more challenging.

Sadly, such a piece of small space debris did cause significant damage in May 2021 by hitting the Canadarm2 robot arm. Due to its small size, it was virtually undetectable beforehand, leading to an unavoidable collision. It's crucial to remember that the European Space Agency estimates around 130 million fragments of human-made material, each less than one millimeter, are orbiting Earth. This estimate does not include natural cosmic dust. There is also a considerable amount of smaller space debris, a problem chiefly caused by us, humans.

Related content