- The satchel-sized bag was dropped as they carried out external maintenance
- It is now orbiting Earth several minutes ahead of the ISS, at around 17,000mph
Forget meteors and the Northern Lights. For sky-watchers, the real spectacle is a toolbox lost in space.
The satchel-sized bag was dropped by astronauts as they carried out external maintenance work on the International Space Station (ISS) earlier this month.
It floated away before they noticed it and it is now orbiting Earth several minutes ahead of the ISS, at around 17,000mph.
Despite the bag being 200 miles above the Earth’s surface, experts believe it should be possible to spot through binoculars or a telescope because its white surface strongly reflects the sun’s rays.
The toolbag was being used by Nasa’s Jasmin Moghbeli and Loral O’Hara during a rare all-female space walk to fix a solar panel.
Its position has been confirmed by their Japanese colleague Satoshi Furukawa, who realised he had accidentally photographed it while taking a shot of Mount Fuji as the ISS passed over his homeland.
Nasa controllers have calculated the toolbox poses no risk to the station and expect it to burn up as it falls into the Earth’s atmosphere in the next few months.
It has been classified as space junk and given the ID number 58229/ 1998-067WC.
Ms Moghbeli told mission control after the bag was spotted: ‘In the most improbable of events, Satoshi was actually… taking photos of Mount Fuji and also captured a nice photo of a lost item, the nice crew lock bag from yesterday. It wanted to see Mount Fuji, I guess.’
The astronauts had planned to remove a communications device called the radio frequency group but were running out of time on their six-hour space walk.
They had lifted some insulation to get a better view of the task ahead and it is thought the bag drifted away during that process.
According to astronomy website earthsky.org, it should be possible to spot the toolkit on a clear night ‘with a good pair of binoculars’.
It says that as the bag loses height it should appear between two and four minutes ahead of the ISS some time in the next few days. Mission controllers have joked it should have been fitted with Apple’s AirTag tracking device so it can be picked up on the crew’s next orbit.
If it is similar to a bag lost in 2008 by astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, the cost of replacing it could top £82,000.
She mislaid hers as she cleaned a leaking grease gun while working on one of space shuttle Endeavour’s solar panels. Some amateur astronomers even held ‘tool-watching parties’ to keep up with the bag as it circled the Earth for months.