Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Lost in space

It happens to everyone. Now a spacewalking astronaut has misplaced her handbag.

Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper was just starting to work on a solar panel when a grease gun inside her tool kit exploded and she accidentally let go of the bag.

She could only look on helplessly as the kit 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 one of the space station's solar panels.

Stefanyshyn-Piper let the backpack-sized bag slip out of her grip while wiping grease off her camera and gloves.

"Oh, great," she mumbled.

Stefanyshyn-Piper was carrying out the spacewalk with Stephen Bowen. Luckily, he had his own tool bag with another grease gun, putty knife and oven-like terry cloth mitts to wipe away metal grit from the clogged joint.

Mission Control agreed the spacewalk would continue as planned, and that the two astronauts would share tools. Flight controllers were assessing the impact the lost bag would have on the next three planned spacewalks.

Earlier, the spacewalkers spotted a screw floating by, but were too far away to catch it. "I have no idea where it came from," Stefanyshyn-Piper told Mission Control. Mission Control said the screw was not considered a serious hazard, but did not immediately elaborate on the missing tool bag. Flight controllers were tracking its location in orbit.

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