Lost In Space
Microgravity's mysterious side effect: Stuff disappears
- By Tom Jones
- Air & Space magazine, September 2010
Illustration by David Clark
(Page 2 of 2)
The dozen or so High-Efficiency Particulate-Absorbing (HEPA) filters built into the baseboards of the ISS modules sometimes trap drifting equipment as they screen circulating cabin air. But sometimes a prayer to St. Anthony, patron saint of lost articles, is more effective. In December 2008, Sandy Magnus was bolting the front panels to a new sleeping compartment in the ISS Harmony node. She held the four bolt assemblies and a tiny Allen wrench securely in her fist while she took a call from mission control. When she went back to work, she recalls, “I slowly opened my fingers to continue—but the wrench was gone!” (According to Magnus, “Whenever you see an astronaut start whipping their head around on camera, you can be sure they’ve lost something.”)
Figuring the tool was gone for good, she used duct tape to attach the wall panels. But two days later, working in the European Columbus lab, she spotted the tiny black wrench adrift near the ceiling. It was the rare case of a missing tool turning up later.
Magnus notes that whenever crew members find floating odds and ends, they pop them into a Ziploc lost-and-found she calls the “scavenger hunt” bag. Occasionally the crew will downlink photos of its contents to the ground, where engineers will try to figure out where the mystery widgets came from. Controllers say that of the 22,000 inventory items currently logged aboard the ISS, 638—just under three percent—are listed as misplaced or lost.
Houston: Jones here. Let me know if someone on the ISS spots a 3/8-inch socket wrench. On February 11, 2001, while unbolting launch locks in the new Destiny lab, I took my eyes off that tool for a second….
Ask me about the reward.
Four-time space shuttle astronaut Tom Jones hopes to claim all the lost change rolling around under the orbiter floorboards.