Drowning In Space: Astronaut Luca Parmitano Describes Terrifying Helmet Leak During Harrowing Spacewalk

By Josh Lieberman on August 21, 2013 4:57 PM EDT

spacewalk
During a spacewalk in July, Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano almost drown when his helmet began to fill with water. Above, Parmitano performs maintenance work on the International Space Station. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

An Italian astronaut who almost drowned when water entered his helmet during a spacewalk has written a harrowing account of the near-death experience on his blog.

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On July 16, 2013, Luca Parmitano, 36, and NASA astronaut Christopher Cassidy were performing maintenance on the exterior of the International Space Station. The six-and-a-half hour mission was going well--ahead of schedule, even--when suddenly Parmitano noticed something was very wrong.

"The unexpected sensation of water at the back of my neck surprises me--and I'm in a place where I'd rather not be surprised," wrote on his blog.  

Once mission control in Houston, Texas, became aware of the water in Parmitano's helmet, the mission was terminated. With Parmitano's helmet filling up with water from an unknown source--Parmitano suspected it was drinking water leaking from his flask--he began to make his way back inside.

"As I move back along my route towards the airlock," Parmitano wrote, "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."

Water obscured Parmitano's visor, limiting his vision. He turned upside down, the water now completely obscuring his vision, and water began to cover his nose. With the upper part of Parmitano's helmet filled with water, he feared that his next inhalation would bring water instead of air.

Parmitano was unable to tell in which direction the airlock to the ISS was. He could only faintly hear the voices of Cassidy or mission control, and then had the idea to feel his way along his safety cable back to the airlock.

"I move for what seems like an eternity (but I know it's just a few minutes)," wrote Parmitano. "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."

Parmitano made it back into the airlock safely. After a few minutes of repressurization, the internal door opened and Parmitano was brought back into ISS. The source of the water is under investigation, and all spacewalks have been suspended. 

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