Lost in space: the astronauts’ toolbox

Author: AP

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.

She said her grease gun exploded, getting the dark grey stuff all over a
camera and her gloves. While wiping off herself, the white, backpack-size
bag slipped out of her grip, and she lost all her other tools.

“Oh, great,” she mumbled.

Ms Stefanyshyn-Piper and her fellow spacewalker, Stephen Bowen, then went on
to finish their tasks in six hours and 52 minutes by sharing tools.

Mr Bowen had his own tool bag with another grease gun, putty knife and
oven-like terry cloth mitts to wipe away metal grit from a clogged joint at
the space station.

“Despite my little hiccup, or major hiccup, I think we did a good job out
there,” Ms Stefanyshyn-Piper said after returning to the space station.

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,” Ms 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.

The lost bag marred what had been a near-flawless mission by Endeavour and its
seven-member crew.

Putting her disappointment aside, Ms Stefanyshyn-Piper – the first woman to be
assigned as lead spacewalker for a shuttle flight – carried out her work on
the joint with Mr Bowen.

For more than a year, the jammed joint has been unable to automatically point
the right-side solar wings toward the sun for maximum energy production. The
repair work – expected from the outset to be greasy and hand-intensive – is
supposed to take up much of all four spacewalks.

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