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Astronaut describes near-drowning on spacewalk

More than a month after his unforgettable July 16 spacewalk with fellow astronaut Christopher Cassidy of NASA, during which Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano encountered a water leak within his helmet that splashed water into his eyes and ears, he recounted the events in a blog post, dated August 20.  Parmitano was able to return to the airlock aboard the International Space Station by using his safety cable, though he could barely see through his helmet.

Recounting the dramatic events, Parmitano wrote, “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.”

He continued describing the events, “The water has also almost completely covered the front of my visor, sticking to it and obscuring my vision, 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.  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.”

Then, an additional complication emerged.  “To make matters worse, I realise 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, not even enough to make out the handles we use to move around the station,” he wrote.

In the nick of time, as Parmitano struggled to hear Cassidy and a NASA mission controller, he remembered to use his safety cable.  “Its cable recoil mechanism has a force of around 3lb [1.3kg] that will ‘pull’ me towards the left. It’s not much, but it’s the best idea I have: to follow the cable to the airlock.  I move for what seems like an eternity (but I know it’s just a few minutes). Finally, with a huge sense of relief, I peer through the curtain of water before my eyes and make out the thermal cover of the airlock: just a little further, and I’ll be safe.”

The emergency occurred just over one hour into a planned six-hour EVA to work on cabling and perform routine maintenance on the International Space Station.  NASA is currently conducting an investigation into the incident, and has halted all EVAs until the problem is resolved.

What would you have done if faced with the same situation as Parmitano? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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