CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – In one of the most harrowing spacewalks in decades, an astronaut had to rush back into the International Space Station on Tuesday after a mysterious water leak inside his helmet robbed him of the ability to speak or hear and could have caused him to choke or drown.
Italian Luca Parmitano was reported to be fine after the dangerous episode, which might have been caused by an unprecedented leak in the cooling system of his suit. His spacewalking partner, American Christopher Cassidy, had to help him inside after NASA quickly aborted the spacewalk.
No one – neither the astronauts in orbit nor flight controllers in Houston – breathed easier until Parmitano was back inside and his helmet was yanked off.
“He looks miserable. But OK,” Cassidy assured everyone.
Spacewalking is dangerous already, flight director David Korth noted. Then on top of that, “go stick your head in a fishbowl and try to walk around. That’s not anything that you take lightly,” he said. “He did a great job of just keeping calm and cool” as the amount of water increased.
The two astronauts were outside barely an hour, performing routine cable work on their second spacewalk in eight days, when Parmitano reported the leak. It progressively worsened as the minutes ticked by, drenching the back of his head, then his eyes, nose and, finally, mouth. He could have choked or drowned on the floating globs of water, NASA officials said.