NASA astronauts Jasmin Moghbeli and Loral O'Hara had just completed a six-hour, 42-minute spacewalk during which they tried to repair a few things, failing in some attempts, when they unintentionally let go of a tool bag that now orbits just ahead of the International Space Station's (ISS) by between two and four minutes.
One of Moghbeli and O'Hara's missions, which they did successfully complete, involved replacing one of the 12 trundle bearing assemblies on the port solar alpha rotary joint, which allows the arrays to track the sun and generate electricity for the ISS.
Mission Control reported that the fix was a success, as was the successful removal of a handling bar fixture that was done to prepare for the future installation of a roll-out solar array. The duo also properly configured a cable that had previously been interfering with an external camera on the station.
One mission the duo failed to complete was to remove and stow a communications electronics box called the Radio Frequency Group. This was due to there not being enough time during the spacewalk before they had to return.
"Unfortunately, the trundle bearing did not come free as easily as expected," it was reported. "O'Hara, assisted by Moghbeli, ran into delays loosening the bolts holding the degraded trundle bearing in place. Though it finally came loose, it left Moghbeli and O'Hara about an hour behind in the schedule."
(Related: Did you know that any climate change taking place is caused by changes in Earth's orbit, and not by SUVs and earth-based fuels?)
At one point during the spacewalk, an errant bag of equipment broke loose and made its way out into open space. A video shared by United Kingdom-based spacewoman Dr. Meganne Christian shows the moment at which the tool bag made its escape, as well as Moghbeli trying, but failing, to grasp at it – watch below:
— Dr Meganne Christian (@astro_meganne) November 5, 2023
The tool bag is said to be bright and easily seen from Earth with just a simple pair of binoculars. The object is just below the limit of visibility to the unaided eye at a magnitude of around +6.
"That means some sky observers should be able to pick it up with binoculars."
There was some initial fear that the dislodged tool bag might strike the ISS at some point and cause damage, but Mission Control says that upon analysis, its trajectory poses a very low risk "and that the onboard crew and space station are safe with no action required."
The tool bag is also in a deteriorating orbit, which means it is slowly descending and will eventually disintegrate once reaching an altitude of around 70 miles, or 113 kilometers, over Earth.
"Flight controllers spotted the tool bag using external station cameras," reported NASA officials. "The tools were not needed for the remainder of the spacewalk."
"Mission Control analyzed the bag's trajectory and determined that risk of recontacting the station is low and that the onboard crew and space station are safe with no action required."
Until it eventually disintegrates, the tool bag will remain as a new artificial "star" in the night sky for viewers to watch along with the ISS and other orbiting objects.
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