Understand instantly
  • Lost in Microgravity
  • A Spacewalk Mishap
  • Challenges in Space
  • The Gravity of a Lost Toolkit
  • Astronomical Consequences
  • The Unpredictable Path of Lost Tools
  • Continuing the Mission
Spacewalk Mishap: Astronauts Accidentally Drop Toolkit in Microgravity
Spacewalk Mishap: Astronauts Accidentally Drop Toolkit in Microgravity / Photo by Moon Team

Lost in Microgravity

In space, there's no room for the clumsiness that we've all experienced on Earth. Astronauts Jasmin Moghbeli and Loral O’Hara found themselves in an unexpected situation during a recent spacewalk outside the International Space Station (ISS).

A Spacewalk Mishap

On November 1, while working to replace a malfunctioning trundle bearing assembly on the ISS, an unexpected twist occurred. It wasn't a tool falling out of reach, as many of us have encountered, but rather an entire tool bag. In the microgravity of space, this mishap presented a unique challenge, with thousands of viewers tuned in via livestream to witness the spectacle.

Challenges in Space

Spacewalks come with their own set of challenges. In this case, the astronauts were tasked with replacing a component crucial for the ISS's solar array. These solar panels require precise alignment with the Sun, and even a minor malfunction can have significant consequences. The trundle bearing assembly, one of 12 on the ISS, is responsible for keeping the solar panels tracking the Sun, ensuring the station receives optimal power. [1]

The Gravity of a Lost Toolkit

Spacewalks are physically demanding, even for seasoned astronauts. The combination of spacesuit limitations and the exhaustion of a spacewalk can lead to fumbles, as the Apollo 17 crew observed even on the Moon's surface. In the microgravity environment of space, letting go of an object doesn't cause it to fall in the traditional sense, but it can result in unintended pushes in the wrong direction.

Astronomical Consequences

One might wonder about the consequences of losing a toolkit in space. The reality is, with the vast number of human-made objects and debris in orbit, it takes something particularly large or on an exceptionally dangerous orbit to raise concerns. Thankfully, the lost tool bag was not one of them, and it has been cataloged as a known artificial object in space.

The Unpredictable Path of Lost Tools

Once an object drifts away from the ISS, its trajectory becomes unpredictable. Yet, there is a tiny amount of atmospheric drag at the ISS's altitude, causing objects to gradually lose altitude. This ensures that most items inadvertently dropped during spacewalks ultimately burn up upon reentry, providing a cosmic spectacle over our planet. [2]

Continuing the Mission

Despite the unexpected tool bag incident, Moghbeli and O’Hara didn't let it deter them from their mission. They managed to address other tasks, including shifting a cable affecting an external camera and preparing for the installation of a future roll-out solar array. However, plans to remove a communications box during the spacewalk were postponed for another time.

In space, where every move matters, even the smallest mishap becomes a captivating reminder of the complexities of life beyond our home planet.