On November the 18th, Space Shuttle Endeavor Astronaut Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper (pictured above) lost her grip on a $100,000 tool bag while she was trying to clean up a spill from a grease-gun being used to lubricate part of the International Space Station's solar wings. This was a near catastrophe, as the astronauts then had to share one remaining tool bag among them, with a week's worth of repairs yet to complete.
Here is an image captured as the backpack-sized bag floated away.
Many thought that the tool bag would go on to join the many pieces of space junk and be lost among them, but the good folks at Spaceweather.com have been tracking the tool bag, and not only that, amateur astronomers on Earth have been checking it out as it proceeds across the night sky just ahead of the International Space Station! Hilarious!
After sunset on Nov. 22, Edward Light, using 10 x 50 binoculars, spotted the bag in space while he scanned the sky from his backyard in Lakewood, N.J., Spaceweather.com reported. On the same night, Keven Fetter of Brockville, Ontario, video-recorded the bag as it passed by the star Eta Pisces in the constellation Pisces.
More bag-viewing opportunities are expected.
The tool bag can be seen through binoculars, a few minutes ahead of the space station's orbit. The satellite tracker predicts that the bag will be visible through binoculars from Europe and western North America during a series of passes this week. By late next week, the tool bag should appear in the evening skies over most of North America.
Like other space debris, the tool bag's show will have a fiery end. "We currently predict that the errant tool bag will fall back to Earth in June of next year," said Nicholas Johnson, chief scientist for orbital debris at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. "The date is dependent upon solar activity, so an earlier or later date is possible. As the reentry date draws nearer, a more accurate prediction can be made." And he expects the entire tool bag will burn up upon reentry. "Although we have not yet conducted a detailed reentry survivability analysis for the tool bag and its contents, it is highly likely that no components will reach the surface of the Earth," Johnson told SPACE.com.