European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano offered new details Tuesday on the frightening situation he confronted on July 16 when the protective helmet he was wearing during a spacewalk outside the International Space Station began to fill with water.
European Space Agency Luca Parmitano. Photo Credit:NASA TV
NASA's Mission Control called the planned six to seven hour-spacewalk with NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy to a halt after 92 minutes with the situation for the 36-year-old Italian test pilot quickly worsening. Blinded, unable to hear or breathe comfortably as blobs of water massed around his eyes, ears and nose, Parmitano was forced to retreat to the ISS U.S. airlock.
"As I move back along my route towards the airlock, I become more and more certain that the water is increasing. 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, sticking to it and obscuring my vision," Parmitano writes in a European Space Agency blog published Tuesday.
U.S. astronaut Karen Nyberg and Russian cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov rush to help Luca Parmitano in the International Space Station airlock on July 16. Photo Credit: NASA TV
"I realize that to get over one of the antennae on my route I will have to move my body into a vertical position, also in order for my safety cable to rewind normally. 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," Parmitano continues. "By now, the upper part of the helmet is full of water and I can't even be sure that the next time I breathe I will fill my lungs with air and not liquid. To make matters worse, I realize that I can't even understand which direction I should head in to get back to the airlock. I can't see more than a few centimeters in front of me..."
As it turned out, Parmitano reached the safety of the airlock, navigating largely by memory and the slight directional tug of his safety tether. He was helped from the flooding space suit by NASA's Karen Nyberg and Russian Pavel Vinogradov.
But at one point, the Italian astronaut wondered if he might have to release pressure from his suit through a relief valve if the water forced its way into his mouth.
The incident remains the focus of a formal NASA mishap investigation. The water, which emerged from an air vent at the back of Parmitano's helmet, may have started with a problem in the Primary Life Support System, or the back pack portion of the NASA shuttle era Extravehicular Mobility Unit he was wearing. An estimated 1 1/2 liters of water emerged.
Though U.S. spacewalks are on hold until the cause and a remedy have been identified, Russian cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Alexander Misurkin will spacewalk on Thursday, their second excursion in a week.