Accidents can happen: during a November 1 spacewalk, US astronauts Jasmin Moghbeli and Loral O’Hara “inadvertently lost” a tool bag, according to NASA. That tool bag is now in orbit, and can even be viewed from Earth.
That visibility is due to the bag being white and reflective. If you want to try and spot it, your best bet is to first find the ISS. The object was roughly five minutes ahead of the space station on November 11, a timing that should stretch as the days pass.
Luckily, the astronauts were not hindered in completing their spacewalk tasks, which included adjusting a cable and replacing a bearing on a solar panel, and the toolbag was not needed for the rest of the mission.
After assessing the bag’s trajectory, NASA doesn’t deem it to be a threat to the ISS or its occupants.
Over the next few months, the tool bag is expected to circle closer to Earth before eventually disintegrating in the atmosphere – so catch it while you can, if you want to see a unique bit of space junk.
Only… it’s not actually that unique, because this has happened before. In 2008, astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper dropped a tool bag while on a spacewalk outside the ISS. No real damage was done, and the bag eventually burned up.
More recently, in 2017, astronauts dropped a fabric debris shield while in orbit. That situation was rather more serious, as it could have left the ISS vulnerable, but the astronauts were able to patch together something using other materials.
The award for the most unusual lost item probably goes to the 2006 incident in which British astronaut Piers Sellers accidentally lost hold of a spatula. At the time, it was being used to apply a heat-resistant substance to the space station.
This even goes back to the first ever spacewalk by a US astronaut, in 1965. On this occasion, Ed White lost a spare glove.
These make for good anecdotes, but there’s a serious point too: the number of bits of space junk orbiting our planet is now in the millions.
Not only does this make space travel precarious, there’s also evidence that it’s contributing to pollution on Earth.