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article imageNASA designates panel for failed spacewalk investigation

By Eduardo Arrufat     Jul 25, 2013 in Science
London - The latest spacewalk for ISS maintenance is forced to end quickly after astronaut almost drowns to death due to excessive water formed inside his helmet.
Drowning in space does not sound too pleasant. It actually seems a rather odd situation considering the lack of the vital liquid up in orbit. However, the events from July 16 went against all predictions when an Italian astronaut from the ESA was outside the ISS performing a routine spacewalk.
The spacewalk was planned for six hours and it would have served to fix and change certain components from the exterior of the ISS hull. Luca Parmitano and fellow NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy had to cut the walk short because of an increasing amount of water forming up in Parmitano´s helmet. At first it was thought to be from sweat condensation; however after more than half a liter was formed the astronaut wasn´t able to hear, see or communicate properly. Only an hour and a half after the beginning of the walk tasks had started, Parmitano required assistance to make it back into the Space Station before he would have been drowned.
Just today, NASA has appointed a board to investigate the causes of said incident and all further spacewalks have been cancelled or postponed until the integrity of the suit and life support equipment can be ensured again. Among the members of the investigation team there is a former astronaut with spacewalk experience, NASA´s Chief Engineer for Safety and a human factors specialist from Johnson Space Center. The five-member investigatory panel already started gathering information and will conduct some tests on Friday. Some possible failure modes have already been discarded like leaking from the drinking water system or from the cooling system of the form-fitting undergarment.
In the meantime, NASA ground plans include providing all the tools that might be needed for fixing the suits in the next Russian supply ship scheduled for July 27th.
But Parmitano is not the first to have the rainy helmet problem, as reported by NASA, a mission from 2004 had Russian cosmonaut Alexander Kalery suddenly experiencing drops of warm water forming in his helmet. Within minutes he was brought back into the Space Station and almost right away they realized that a kink in the refrigeration system tube was blocking the flow of coolant. After the kink was straightened, the temperature of the suit went back to normal levels and no further investigation was required.
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