Spacewalk terror astronaut: I'm OK
An astronaut had to rush back into the International Space Station 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 even drown.
In one of the most harrowing spacewalks in decades, Italian Luca Parmitano was reported to be fine after the danger episode on Tuesday, 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 the US space agency quickly aborted the spacewalk. No-one - astronauts or flight controllers - relaxed until Parmitano was back inside and his helmet removed. "He looks miserable. But OK," Cassidy assured everyone.
It was the first time in years that a spacewalk came to such an abrupt halt and the first time since Nasa's Gemini programme 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.
In a news conference, Nasa acknowledged the perilous situation and space station operations manager Kenneth Todd promised to make every effort to make sure it never happened again.
Spacewalking is dangerous already, noted flight director David Korth. 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 did a great job of just keeping calm and cool" as the amount of water ominously increased.
It was only Parmitano's second spacewalk; his first was last Tuesday, six weeks after moving into the space station.
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 worsened as the minutes passed, drenching the back of his head, then his eyes, nose and, finally, mouth by the time he was in the air lock, the pressure chamber.
He could have choked or drowned on the floating globs of water, Nasa officials said. One to one and a half litres of water leaked into his helmet and suit, Nasa estimated.
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 four litres. Less likely was the 32oz - about a litre - drink bag that astronauts sip from during lengthy spacewalks; Parmitano reported the leaking water tasted odd.