Astronaut recounts near-drowning on spacewalk

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The Italian astronaut who nearly drowned in his helmet during a spacewalk last month is sharing more details about the terrifying experience, revealing how he felt all alone and frantically tried to come up with a plan to save himself.

Luca Parmitano wrote in his online blog, posted Tuesday, that he could no longer see as the water sloshed around in his helmet outside the International Space Station.

“But worse than that, 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,” the former test pilot wrote. “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.”

Parmitano, 36, a major in the Italian Air Force making just his second spacewalk, wasn’t sure which direction to head to reach the station’s hatch. He tried to contact his spacewalking partner, American Christopher Cassidy, and Mission Control. Their voices grew faint, and no one could hear him.

“I’m alone. I frantically think of a plan. It’s vital that I get inside as quickly as possible,” he wrote.

Parmitano realized Cassidy — making his way back to the air lock by a different route — could come get him. “But how much time do I have? It’s impossible to know,” he said.

That’s when Parmitano remembered his safety cable. He used the cable recoil mechanism, and its 3 pounds of force, to “pull” him back to the hatch. On the way back, he pondered what he would do if water reached his mouth. The only idea he came up with, he said, was to open the safety valve on his helmet and let out some of the water.

“But making a `hole’ in my spacesuit really would be a last resort,” he wrote.

Parmitano said it seemed like an eternity — not just a few minutes — until he peered through “the curtain of water before my eyes” and spotted the hatch. Cassidy was close behind. The astronauts inside quickly began repressurizing the air lock, to get to the spacewalkers.

“The water is now inside my ears and I’m completely cut off,” he said.

He tried to stay as still as possible to keep the water from moving inside his helmet. He knew that because of the repressurization, he could always open his helmet if the water overwhelmed him. “I’ll probably lose consciousness, but in any case, that would be better than drowning inside the helmet,” he wrote.

Cassidy squeezed his glove. Parmitano managed to give the universal OK sign.

“Finally, with an unexpected wave of relief,” Parmitano saw the internal door open, and the crew pulled him out and his helmet off.

He remembers thanking his crewmates “without hearing their words because my ears and nose will still be full of water for a few minutes more.”

NASA has traced the problem to his spacesuit backpack which is full of life-support equipment. But the precise cause is still unknown as the investigation continues into quite possibly the closest call ever during an American-led spacewalk. NASA has suspended all U.S. spacewalks until the problem is resolved.

The Russians, meanwhile, will stage their second spacewalk in under a week, this Thursday, to prepare for the arrival of a new lab by the end of this year. The two countries’ suits are completely different.

More than a month has passed since the July 16 spacewalk, and it’s given Parmitano time to reflect on the dangers surrounding him. The first-time space flier will return to Earth in November.

“Space is a harsh, inhospitable frontier and we are explorers, not colonisers,” he wrote. “The skills of our engineers and the technology surrounding us make things appear simple when they are not, and perhaps we forget this sometimes.

“Better not to forget.”

More in Local News

Snohomish County has its own history of train derailments

This morning’s wreck in DuPont is not affecting train service to points north and east of Seattle.

Wildlife, guns and property taxes are on the agenda in 2018

State lawmakers are pre-filing bills they hope to pass in the 2018 legislative session.

Three arrested for allegedly stealing $7K worth of perfume

One of the women from Portland, Oregon, was caught shoplifting at Sephora in the Alderwood mall.

Spring start set for big Everett apartment complex

The building will be eight stories tall, with seven of those visible from Broadway.

Two from Oak Harbor killed in head-on, 2-car crash

One car crossed the center line, hitting the other car. Both drivers died.

Clues in recovered backpack help identify robbery suspect

Police find a ticket with the man’s name on it after an attempted shoplifting at a Safeway.

Herald photos of the week

A weekly collection of The Herald’s top images by staff photographers and… Continue reading

Front Porch

HEADS UP Check your utility rates The city of Lynnwood’s utility charges… Continue reading

Police presence returns to Edmonds School District

Jacob Hubby is set to walk the halls of Meadowdale High School as a school resource officer.

Most Read