Lost in space: Astronauts lose grip on key shield component

Such a scene played out in real life 250 miles above the Earth on Thursday when an important piece of cloth shielding for the International Space Station (ISS) drifted away from two spacewalking astronauts.

Once outside the space station, the two astronauts went in separate directions.

Two veteran United States astronauts were in the middle of a spacewalk when a 1.5m (5ft) debris shield being installed on the International Space Station (ISS) drifted away. Thankfully, NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston came up with a solution on the spot. After completing her 8th spacewalk, she annihilated that record having a total number of spacewalking hours of 53 and 22 minutes. Each fabric segment weighs 18 pounds and is slightly larger than 5 x 2 feet in dimensions and 3 inches thick.

Around the 10th of April, Whitson will be promoted to commander of the space station.

In any case, once it gets pulled into Earth's orbit, the debris should make its way into the atmosphere where it will burn up, erasing any evidence of this off-world mistake.

While not a flawless fit, the cover will help protect the station from impacts and provide thermal shielding, NASA said.

Whitson radioed in, 'You guys came up with a fantastic plan - on short notice.

According to the Associated Press's latest report, "There was a clearly audible annoyance in the voice of Whitson as she informed about the progression of events to the ground-based Mission Control".

Spacewalkers have now spent a total of 1,243 hours and 42 minutes outside the station during 199 spacewalks in support of assembly and maintenance of the orbiting laboratory, said NASA.

The last such occasion was in 2008 when an astronaut lost hold of her tool bag while struggling with a jammed solar wing panel.

Whitson managed to break records during the spacewalk, becoming the oldest and most experienced woman to perform a spacewalk, but the task was not without incident - the pair accidentally dropped a key piece of cloth shielding from the ISS, and it's now been lost in the vast expanse of space. From the entire three-stage spacewalk mission, it is the first minor setback which held back one of the crew members astronomers from conducting a record-setting mission.

  • Carolyn Briggs