Despite Losing Tools, Cosmonauts Complete Spacewalk
An unidentified object - potentially a cable attachment fixture - floats away from two Russian cosmonauts conducting a spacewalk July 27 outside the International Space Station. Full Story.
Credit: NASA TV.

This story was updated at 7:03 a.m. EDT.

A lost tool and washer marred an otherwise routine spacewalk by two Russian cosmonauts outside the International Space Station Tuesday.

Russian cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Mikhail Kornienko spent six hours and forty-two minutes outside the orbiting lab replacing a broken camera and installing cables on a Russian room to help outfit it as a new docking port.

At one point - around 1:45 a.m. EDT (0645 GMT) ? the spacewalkers accidentally lost an unidentified object that was visible spinning slowly as it floated farther and farther away from their perch on the side of the space station. [Photo of the lost tool floating away]

"What is it?" one cosmonaut asked in Russian.

"It looks like it's a handle or an attachment fixture ? yes, it's an attachment fixture," the other cosmonaut replied, according to an English translation.

The spacewalkers were en route to a work site on the station's Zvezda module, carrying reels of cables they planned to wire up to the station's Rassvet (Russian for "Dawn") research room. The cosmonauts speculated that the lost item was a tool to secure the cables in place once they are installed. If so, the loss isn't serious.

"All right, very good, we're probably going to be using wire anyway to attach," a spacewalker said.

About an hour later, another unidentified item accidentally floated off into space. This small object appeared to be a washer.

The lost tools will temporarily become new pieces of space junk floating in Earth orbit, and should eventually be destroyed as they burn up in Earth's atmosphere.

The space around Earth is littered with thousands of pieces of space debris left over from old rockets, dead satellites and lost tools (as well as intentionally discarded items) that escaped the grip of astronauts working on spacewalks. In fact, later in the spacewalk Yurchikhin and Kornienko intentionally tossed an old, broken video camera overboard later to discard it after they removed it from the station's Russian segment.

In 2008, a spacewalker lost a space tool bag worth $100,000 when it drifted away after popping free. The tool bag later re-entered the Earth's atmosphere in August 2009 and burned up. In 2007, another spacewalker threw a huge coolant tank overboard on purpose to discard it because it was no longer needed and too large to be returned to Earth.

The U.S. Defense Department's Space Surveillance Network tracks much of the space debris in orbit today an alerts NASA of any potential risks to the International Space Station and its crew. NASA and its space station partners routinely move the International Space Station when the threat of impact posed by a nearby object is too high.

The first item lost in space Tuesday, at least, shouldn't pose a risk to the station, NASA commentator Brandi Dean said.

"It does seem to have floated below the space station and it should not pose any problem for the space station as far as posing a debris threat," Dean said.

Other than the mislaid items, the spacewalk went smoothly, and Yurchikhin and Kornienko were able to accomplish all their goals. The spacewalk began at 12:11 a.m. EDT (0411 GMT).

First, the spacewalkers removed a broken camera used to guide in unmanned cargo ships called Automated Transfer Vehicles (ATVs) docking at the station. After this job, they moved on to the Rassvet module, which was delivered to the station in May by the visiting space shuttle Atlantis. The cosmonauts routed a set of cables to connect the command and data handling computers to the module, and also enabled the room's Kurs docking system, which allows arriving ships to automatically dock at Rassvet's docking port.