Ever been working on a project at home and, while reaching for something, let your toolbox slip off the ladder? I certainly have and it’s annoying. It’s not a usual situation, however, that I wind up permanently losing the tools as a result of that little slip. Among other things that’s a very different story in space. While on a spacewalk yesterday, one of our astronauts lost her grip on her toolbox:
A spacewalking astronaut accidentally let go of her tool bag Tuesday after a grease gun inside it exploded, and helplessly watched as the tote and everything inside floated away.
It was one of the largest items ever to be lost by a spacewalker, and occurred during an unprecedented attempt to clean and lube a gummed-up joint on a solar panel.
Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper was just starting to work on the joint when the mishap occurred.
The title to this post is really just a good-natured ribbing; I don’t think she was horribly negligent or anything of the sort. The incident started when her grease gun exploded, splattering the gooey crap they were using on the station all over her gloves and mission camera. While trying to clear that, the toolbag slipped out her hands. Unlike here on earth, even a gentle push will result in an object moving away from you at a fair clip and you can’t just pop over there and stop it. Trying any such thing might result in the astronaut herself taking on a movement vector that her thruster pack would be unable to overcome. Unlike the issue of a toolbag floating off into low orbit – an annoyance, to be sure – such a situation happening to the astronaut herself would be literally fatal and it’d be a slow fatality at that.
Personally, I’d like to commend Astronaut Stefanshyn-Piper for her control in this situation. If that’d been me up there, mission control would have been treated to a far more salty communication than her simple, “Oh, great” response to the bag floating away! Hell, that happened yesterday and I would very likely still be letting a blue streak fly over it.
It’s disappointing, I’m sure, but considering the overall success of this mission it’s a minor issue and both NASA and this team are to be congratulated for it.