NASA Aborts Spacewalk: Fear That Astronaut Could Drown

NASA abruptly ended a spacewalk to work on the International Space Station when liquid began gathering in an astronaut’s helmet, posing a risk of drowning.

Luca Parmitano, 36, was fixing cables on the International Space Station when liquid poured into his helmet, drenching his eyes, nose and mouth. At first Parmitano thought it was just sweat but his spacewalk partner, veteran US astronaut Christopher Cassidy, said it could be water from his drinking bag. The water had leaked out from Parmitano’s space suit and rose to his helmet, reaching his eyes leaving him unable to speak or even to hear his radio.

NASA immediately aborted the mission and ex-Navy SEAL Cassidy, 43, guided his terrified colleague back to safety in an air lock chamber.

It was the first time in years that a spacewalk came to such an abrupt halt and the first time since NASA’s Gemini program in the mid-1960s that a spacewalker became so incapacitated. Spacewalking always carries high risk; a puncture by a micrometeorite or sharp edge, if big enough, could result in instant death.

The drama unfolded one hour into a planned six-hour spacewalk for the astronauts to repair video equipment and cables on the outside of the station and was their second spacewalk in eight days. It was only Parmitano’s second ever spacewalk and came one week after he became the first ever Italian to carry out a spacewalk on a similar mission.

The main culprit appeared to be iodine-laced water that is piped through the long underwear worn under a spacesuit for cooling. The system holds nearly 4 liters, or 1 gallon. Less likely was the 32-ounce (about 1 liter) drink bag that astronauts sip from during lengthy spacewalks; Parmitano reported the leaking water tasted odd.

NASA shut this mission right down when there was potential danger to one of their astronauts. It was the fastest end to a spacewalk since 2004, when Russian and American spacewalkers were ordered back in by Mission Control outside Moscow because of spacesuit trouble. That spacewalk lasted a mere 14 minutes. Tuesday’s spacewalk lasted one hour and 32 minutes.