Drowning in Space? How One Astronaut Saved Himself

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Aug. 20 2013 8:40 PM

The Ultimate Phobia? Astronaut Recounts How He Nearly Drowned in Space

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Russia's Soyuz TMA-09M spacecraft blasts off from the Russian leased Kazakh Baikonur cosmodrome early on May 29, 2013.

Photo by KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images

In July, Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano and an American colleague set out to make repairs to the exterior of the International Space Station. It was supposed to be a six-hour job or so. But, things went terribly wrong. 

In a blog post today on the European Space Agency website, Parmitano describes the harrowing experience of nearly drowning in space. While outside the space station, his helmet begins to fill up with water. Frantic, and feeling completely alone, Parmitano says he tried to come up with a plan. His last resort? Making a hole in his space suit. Instead, he describes his race to get back inside the space station before his helmet is completely full of water.

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As I move back along my route towards the airlock, 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. The water has also almost completely covered the front of my visor, sticking to it and obscuring my vision.

Soon, things get worse.

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. To make matters worse, I realise that I can’t even understand which direction I should head in to get back to the airlock.

Parmitano is able to make his way back to the airlock just in the nick of time.

It's still unclear the cause of the water leak, reports CNN.

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.

Elliot Hannon is a writer in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter.