Astronaut OK following spacewalk scare

In this image from video made available by NASA, astronauts discuss the aborted spacewalk aboard the International Space Station on Tuesday, July 16, 2013. A dangerous water leak in the helmet of Luca Parmitano, bottom center facing camera in white suit, drenched his eyes, nose and mouth, preventing him from hearing or speaking as what should have been a routine spacewalk came to an abrupt end. (AP Photo/NASA)

July 17, 2013 3:33:39 AM PDT
Italian Astronaut Luca Parmitano is reported to be OK after a leak inside his helmet abruptly stopped a spacewalk yesterday. Experts say the leak could literally have caused him to drown in space.

Obviously, the astronaut's safety is something NASA doesn't take lightly. And this was a situation, according to space flight directors, that needed to be addressed immediately to make sure he wasn't seriously hurt.

"I can feel it in the back of my head. I don't understand where it's coming from. It has to be the bag," said Parmitano.

He described the sensation he was feeling, as water leaked into the helmet of his spacesuit. He's Italy's first spacewalker, and was in the middle of a six hour spacewalk, doing maintenance outside the space station. NASA aborted that mission 90 minutes into the spacewalk after he reported discomfort from the water pooling around him.

In zero-gravity, the water doesn't drain into the suit, instead pooling into a glob, which can float inside the helmet, and could potentially have interfered with Parmitano's breathing.

"As he progressed back toward the airlock, the amount of water he was reporting started to increase and increase and you can imagine you're in a fishbowl. So stick your head in a fishbowl and walk around. That's not anything you take lightly," said NASA space flight director David Korth.

Parmitano returned to the airlock and was removed from his suit as quickly as possible. He told the flight crew the volume of water was increasing quickly. It took 24 minutes to get him back to the airlock, and another 11 minutes to get him out of the suit, and NASA instructed astronauts to skip a few steps in the process to get him out as fast as possible.

NASA says Parmitano is doing fine, although he did post on Twitter that he was having trouble hearing. NASA will be trouble-shooting what went wrong inside the helmet over the next couple days.

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.

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