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Astronaut loses tool during spacewalk, will never see it again

Published Jun 26th, 2020 6:04PM EDT
spacewalk mirror
Image: NASA

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  • An astronaut totally lost his mirror while performing a space station spacewalk.
  • The mirror became detached shortly after the spacewalk began, and it was lost to the vacuum of space.
  • The mirror’s fate is unknown, but it’ll likely tumble toward Earth and be destroyed when it hits the atmosphere.

Spacewalking astronauts have plenty to worry about. Walking around in the vacuum of space with only their spacesuits as protection would be enough to raise anyone’s blood pressure, not to mention the work they have to conduct in zero gravity as they cruise high above the Earth. Needless to say, things can be a bit unpredictable, and that was the case today during a spacewalk conducted by astronauts Chris Cassidy and Robert Behnken.

During the excursion, Cassidy lost a tool that is useful for astronauts: a mirror that was attached to his left wrist. Astronauts use these mirrors because visibility from within a spacesuit helmet isn’t great, and it helps them see angles that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.

The incident happened just as the spacewalk was beginning. As CNN reports, the mirror became loose just after Cassidy was departing the hatch. Anywhere on Earth, the mirror would have dropped to the ground and would have been easily retrieved (or possibly even broken), but that’s not how things go in space. Instead, Cassidy’s mirror made a break for it, tumbling into space where it will never be seen again.

The bad news is that the mirror is gone, but the good news is that it isn’t believed to pose a risk to the space station or any future spacewalks. The ISS remains in orbit because it’s essentially falling around the Earth at just the right speed. The mirror, on the other hand, is likely not moving at a speed that would allow it to remain in orbit for any significant length of time. Instead, the mirror will likely tumble back toward Earth sooner rather than later, slamming into the atmosphere and being completely destroyed in the process.

The loss of the mirror didn’t significantly affect the spacewalk itself, and the astronaut duo was still able to perform the tasks they set out to tackle. More specifically, the spacewalk is just one in a long series of spacewalks where astronauts are gradually replacing aging nickel-hydrogen batteries shiny new, higher-capacity lithium-ion batteries.

You may be wondering why the space station needs such batteries, as it has an array of solar panels that stretch from both sides. It’s true that solar power is the primary power source for the space station, but the spacecraft slips into the dark shadow of Earth many times every day. During those times, the solar panels are no longer bathed in sunlight and power has to be drawn from the batteries which are then recharged when the light returns.

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