NASA could have prevented astronaut’s close call


by Jeremy Desel / KHOU 11 News

Posted on February 26, 2014 at 1:54 PM

Updated Wednesday, Feb 26 at 7:15 PM

HOUSTON – NASA says that an astronaut could have died last year during a spacewalk when water nearly filled his helmet.

Now there is a checklist of changes that have to be made before any more scheduled spacewalks can happen on the International Space Station.

Spacewalks were routine in the construction phase of the ISS, then last July there was a problem.

“I’ve got some water in my helmet,” said Italian Astronaut Luca Parmitano.

“I have a feeling that it is increasing,” he added minutes later. NASA now says Italian astronaut Luca Paramitano could have died in space, drowning in that water that was quickly filling his helmet.

“Now it is in my eyes,” he told ground controllers in Houston, who were helpless.

“Of all the other problems that we have encountered to date. This is probably the most serious we have encountered. I don’t know of any other failures that have this potential hazard associated with it,” Chris Hanson, the chair of NASA’s Mishap Board, said.

Parmitano barely made it back into the ISS, and when he did, the water could be seen coming from the helmet.

The shocker in the report is how much, 1.5 liters of water leaked from the suit into the helmet that Parmitano was wearing – enough to nearly fill it with a head inside.

“I’m sure it was scary,” Leroy Chaio, a former NASA astronaut and veteran of six spacewalks, said.

It is not like filling up a bowl.

“You are in zero gravity so it is not filling up it is all over and these blobs of water once they attach wick around,” Chaio said. “All you can do is shake it. I would be trying to shake it blobs of water off to keep my airway open.”

Ultimately, the root cause is still not known and remains under investigation, but the team investigating the incident says it was essentially a clog just like in your sink, only smaller.

“You can’t take anything for granted. Even things that you think you know,” said Mike Suffredini, the ISS program manager.

“We are gonna learn from this and make sure that we are safer in the future,” Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator, said. NASA hopes to have all the safety fixes in place in time for the next scheduled spacewalks in July.

If they are not there will be no spacewalks except in the event of an emergency.