An Astronaut Tool Bag Is Now Orbiting Earth

Better a missing tool kit than a missing astronaut.
'I said the Phillips head!'
'I said the Phillips head!' / Jonathan Knowles/Stone via Getty Images

This week, stargazers were able to look up in the sky and see something a little different from the usual constellations: a bag of astronaut tools.

According to United Press International, astronauts Jasmin Moghbeli and Loral O’Hara were on a space walk outside the International Space Station (ISS) in early November when their tool kit managed to get away from them. The bag is said to contain highly specialized tools used for maintenance.

It’s actually visible from Earth, provided you have a telescope or a reasonably good pair of binoculars. Just look for a white satchel. The reflective surface of the bag is such that it’s nearly viewable even without magnification. Because it was dropped near the ISS, those curious need to pinpoint the location of the station. The bag—known as a crew lock bag—will be floating close by.

Losing one’s grip on space tools is not a new phenomenon. In 2008, astronaut Heide Stefanshyn-Piper was repairing a jammed gear on the ISS when a bag got away from her.

As humans continue their journey into space, there’s been growing concern that debris from their travels could eventually prompt a terrestrial accident. In 2022, a Nature Astronomy paper calculated that the odds of someone being killed by spent rocket parts could be as much as 10 percent in the next 10 years.

There’s also the not-insignificant issue of a piece of debris nicking a foreign military satellite, prompting confusion over whether it was an accident or an intentional attack.

No one should worry about a space screwdriver falling from orbit, however. Experts believe the bag and its contents will disintegrate in the Earth’s atmosphere sometime in March.

In a blog post, NASA wrote that Moghbeli and O’Hara were “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 to power the station.” The job was still able to be completed.

[h/t United Press International]