International Space Station

Oops. Astronauts Lost a Tool Bag During a Spacewalk!

I know for a fact it’s one of the most annoying things that can happen.  I’ve done it lots; whether that be out at night with telescope or a bit of DIY but for sure it has to rate as one of the most frustrating things to happen. I am talking of dropping something you are using. Ranking high is dropping tools while you are actually using them..  Dropping a tool is one thing but imagine dropping an entire bag of tools, while in orbit!!!! Oops!

Spacewalks or Extra Vehicular Activities seem really quite common these days with the sight of astronauts floating around outside the confines of their spacecraft not something to cause you to raise an eyebrow. Quite sad really as it must still be one of the great achievements of our species, to not only get in orbit in a craft suitable of transporting and supporting its inhabitants but to then get out in the same inhospitable environment is just incredible. 

Two of the current crew of the International Space Station; Jasmin Moghbeli and Loral O’Hara are in the middle of a mission designed to explore the impacts of living and working in a microgravity environment and to demonstrate new technologies for future missions. 

On 7th November, the pair took part in a spacewalk that lasted 6 hours and 42 minutes.  They had been replacing the 12 trundle bearing assemblies on the port solar alpha rotary joint.  I had literally no idea what one of those was although guessed it had wheels or bearings and moved in a circular fashion!  A quick bit of research reveals that it allows the solar arrays to track the Sun to generate Space Station electricity!  In addition to the bearing assemblies they had also removed a handle that was to be used for future retractable solar arrays. 

The Solar Alpha Rotary Joint with Trundle Bearings Identified Upper Right. Credit NASA

They had another job too as if that wasn’t enough, to remove and securely store a communications module called the Radio Frequency Group but they ran out of time for this.  On inspection, they decided it had to be left for another spacewalk but at some point in that process, one of their tool bags became, well, let’s say misplaced! It was subsequently found serenely floating away from the station on one of the external cameras.  Oops. I can’t imagine the feeling of dread once the astronauts realised.  Thankfully they didn’t need any of the tools for any other work during this spacewalk. 

They aren’t the first crew to drop something in space though. To date there has been; a spatula, another toolbag, a glove, pliers and a camera ‘misplaced’ but gracefully now orbiting the planet. Over time of course, all these items will burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere as gravity and atmospheric drag get to them unless they get cleaned up by some sort of outer space hoover should one ever be invented.

As for the latest toolbag, Mission Control went to some lengths to analyse the trajectory of the bag to establish that it posed no risk – in the wonderful words of NASA ‘the risk of recontacting the station is low’ – meaning it was unlikely to smack into the station or its crew at anytime soon. 

Source : NASA Blog

Mark Thompson

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