A routine scheduled spacewalk was aborted by NASA Mission Control in Houston on Tuesday morning after Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano’s spacesuit leaked water into his helmet, quickly impairing his ability to see and eventually hear.
The spacewalk was originally supposed to last over six hours, but Italy’s Parmitano and Chris Cassidy of the United States were forced to re-enter the airlock of the International Space Station after just an hour and a half.
This was the second spacewalk the two astronauts had performed together that week, and luckily wasn’t one of great importance. Among the tasks were simple maintenance and preparations for a Russian Research Laboratory meant to be attached to the International Space Station later this year.
Mission Control ordered both astronauts back to the airlock after Parmitano reported his spacesuit had started leaking water into his helmet. He added that his head was getting wet and the amount of water was increasing.
It took both astronauts about 24 minutes to get back into the airlock, then an additional 11 minutes to remove Parmitano’s suit and helmet.
By that time close to 1.5 liters of water had accumulated within the helmet of the suit as blobs of liquid (due to lack of gravity), seriously impairing Parmitano’s ability to see and hear. Fortunately, the spacesuit was removed before drowning occurred, as the water had nowhere to go.
NASA is performing an extensive investigation to pinpoint the malfunction and source of the leak. However, they believe it may have been coming from the cooling system. Parmitano had remarked at the time that the water “tasted funny,” not like the water in the built in drink bag.
To date, Cassidy has performed six spacewalks, while Parmitano has performed two, including Tuesday’s. According to NASA, Parmitano could have drowned from the spacesuit leaking into his helmet. Thankfully, the quick response of the astronaut’s crew members prevented the tragic event, though Parmitano may be nervous on his next spacewalk.