NASA astronauts Jasmine Moghbeli and Loral O’Hara left the cozy confines of the International Space Station for a spacewalk to work on the solar array in early November. It all went well except for one unexpected twist: a tool bag came loose and started floating away. That tool bag has now set out on a solo adventure in orbit around Earth, and it’s become a space celebrity.
Down on the planet’s surface, telescopes watched as paparazzi captured a photo of the runaway tool bag on Wednesday as it swung along its orbital path.
The Virtual Telescope Project shared the image, which looks like a bright dot against a dark, streaked background. You can’t see any details of the NASA bag, but this image is notable for how the telescope was able to capture a view of a small, fast-moving object. The stripes in the background are the marks of the stars.
The Virtual Telescope Project uses robotic telescopes to observe and track space destinations and share video and images with the public. This ranges from observing eclipses to tracking asteroids to photographing spacecraft. The tool bag is one of the smaller items that the project has managed to capture.
European Space Agency astronaut Megan Christian shared a video on board the X of the moment the bag, officially known as the “crew lock bag,” escaped. This footage came from the camera mounted on Moghbeli’s helmet. The rectangular white bag can be seen slipping from the astronaut.
The tool kit quickly went from being a functional item to space junk. “Mission Control analyzed the bag’s trajectory and determined that the risk of re-contact with the station is low and that the crew onboard and the space station are safe,” NASA said in a statement after the spacewalk ended on Nov. 1. No action is required.” Instruments were not required for the remainder of the spacewalk.
The bag contained tethers and sockets. ISS Deputy Program Manager Dana Weigel called the materials “normal items” at a NASA press briefing on November 8 and said their loss had no major impact. Weigel said it is still unknown how the tool bag came loose.
The rogue bag isn’t the first item to emerge from a spacewalk. Former NASA astronaut (and current Arizona senator) Mark Kelly shares his thoughts on X: “Happens to the best of us,” Kelly tweeted. “I still remember when Pierce Sellers dropped a spatula on STS-121. He got very upset when I told him his putty knife was floating.” Kelly was referring to the 2006 space shuttle mission to the ISS. Sellers was on a spacewalk when a spatula he was using as a tool broke free.
Space junk has become a serious problem around Earth as pieces of debris, destroyed rocket parts, defunct satellites and other debris have accumulated in orbit. Even a small object can cause major damage to a satellite or spacecraft, including the space station. The ISS sometimes has to change its orbital path to avoid possible collisions.
Tool bag freedom has an expiration date. Ultimately it will burn up and be destroyed in the Earth’s atmosphere. It would be worth a little celebration because at least one piece of space junk has gone from orbit.