Luca Parmitano, the charming 36-year-old Italian astronaut from the European Space Agency, has come forward to tell the story of how he almost drowned in his spacesuit during a July walk outside the International Space Station.
Of course there were multiple media reports of the dramatic episode in mid-July. And there is video of the story direct from NASA, which I have posted up top.
Now, for the first time, Parmitano lets us know what he was feeling and thinking in an extended blog post.
To recap, Luca Parmitano was fixing cables outside the International Space Station. He’d been working only an hour into the planned six-hour space walk when he realized that water was leaking out of his space suit and filling his helmet.
Moments after being told that the space walk was going well and that he was 40 minutes ahead of schedule, Parmitano knew that something was wrong:
“The unexpected sensation of water at the back of my neck surprises me – and I’m in a place where I’d rather not be surprised.”
At first, as most accounts at the time speculated, Parmitano and fellow astronaut Chris Cassidy thought the water might be sweat or drinking water that had somehow leaked out of his flask.
But the water continued to fill his helmet. The two astronauts were ordered to end the space walk.
As Parmitano headed back, he realized he was in real trouble:
“I feel it covering the sponge on my earphones and I wonder whether I’ll lose audio contact. The water has also almost completely covered the front of my visor…
“[T]o get over one of the antennae on my route I will have to move my body into a vertical position…At that moment, as I turn upside-down, two things happen: the Sun sets, and my ability to see — already compromised by the water — completely vanishes, making my eyes useless; but worse than that, the water covers my nose — a really awful sensation that I make worse by my vain attempts to move the water by shaking my head.”
In calm language the Italian astronaut described the sensation of beginning to drown in space — and not being able to hear or call to his partners very well.
“[I]f I stay where I am, Chris will come and get me, but how much time do I have? It’s impossible to know…”
Somehow Parmitano followed the cable back, all the while wondering if he would have to risk making a hole in his spacesuit if his mouth and nose were completely filled with water.
It’s a horrifying story told without exaggeration or embellishment. You can read the whole thing at his blog hosted by the European Space Agency.
“We are explorers, not colonisers,” the Italian astronaut said. It’s clear that he accepts the risks.
It’s equally clear that Luca Parmitano knows how to keep a cool head in a crisis.
[Luca Parmitano photo by NASA via Wikimedia]