Astronauts abort spacewalk after water leak in helmet

12:27 PM, Jul 16, 2013   |    comments
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The International Space Station



CAPE CANAVERAL (Florida Today) -- A serious water leak inside a spacewalker's helmet forced NASA to cut short an excursion outside the International Space Station.

European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano, who last week became the first Italian to walk in space, reported a build up of water inside his helmet about an hour into an excursion with U.S. astronaut Chris Cassidy.

The water initially pooled in the back of Parmitano's helmet, behind his head. But ultimately the water - which apparently came from Parmitano's drinking water bag -- floated into his eyes, and flight directors on Mission Control quickly called an end to the outing.

Parmitano was told to head back into the U.S. Quest airlock, and Cassidy followed. Once inside, it appeared the water leak caused the communication system in Parmitano's suit to fail. He apparently could not hear questions about his condition.

"Squeeze my hand if you're fine," Cassidy told Parmitano. "He looks fine. He looks miserable. But he's okay."

U.S. astronaut Karen Nyberg and two Russian cosmonauts - Pavel Vinogradov and Fyodor Yutchikhin, scrambled to remove Parmitano's helmet once he was back inside the station. They used towel to soak up water blobs that floated from the helmet.

"Great job getting those guys out of their suits in a timely manner," Mission Control said. "It was a great team effort."

Mission Control asked Nyberg to take photographs of Parmitano's spacesuit, particularly anything that might seem amiss. And she was asked to make certain they documented the condition of the suspect water bag.

The planned six-hour, 15-minute spacewalk came to an end one hour and 32 minutes after it started. The two astronauts were able to get some maintenance work done outside the station. But not nearly the amount of work they had set out to do.

The excursion was the second in seven days for the astronauts. Cassidy and Parmitano ventured outside the station July 9 and performed myriad maintenance tasks. They also retrieved two science research experiments.

Today, the astronauts had planned a variety of maintenance and assembly-related tasks. Among them: laying electrical power and Ethernet cabling to the juncture between the U.S. and Russian sides of the outpost.

The cabling ultimately will be extended to a Russian multipurpose module that will be launched late this year from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The Nauka, or "Science," module will triple as a laboratory, a docking compartment and an airlock. It will replace the Russian Pirs, or "pier" module, which was launched to the station in August 2001.

The spacewalkers also aimed to:

  • Replace a video camera on the Japanese Kibo research facility.
  • Relocate wireless television camera equipment.
  • Set up equipment that would be used in the event a 40-foot radiator failed and had to be removed and replaced.

The spacewalk was the 171st to be performed in the assembly and maintenance of the station, the construction of which began in late 1998.

The shortest spacewalk in ISS history: 14 minutes.

On June 24, 2004, Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka and U.S. astronaut Mike Fincke ventured outside the outpost. However, their outing was called off when a pressure problem was detected in the oxygen tank within Fincke's suite.

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