A little over a month ago, we reported that a maintenance spacewalk outside the International Space Station had to be cancelled due to astronaut Luca Parmitano experiencing leakage in his helmet. At the time, it definitely sounded like a problem, but it was reported to be a non-emergency and that the astronaut was never in any danger. Of course, that news didn’t come from the Parmitano himself, who recently wrote a harrowing blog post about the experience that makes me wonder who doesn’t consider a near-drowning in outer space an emergency. Probably the people who didn’t nearly drown in outer space.
With a talent for prose that one might not expect, Parmitano details the entire experience, from the anticipation he felt before leaving the airlock, up until when he returned to it with a helmet full of water. “It is pitch black outside,” he writes, “not the color black but rather a complete absence of light. I drink in the sight as I lean out to attach our safety cables. I feel completely at ease as I twist my body to let Chris [Cassidy] go by.” The two men separated and went on their planned routes around the space station in order to complete their tasks.
And for a while, all was well and Parmitano was able to work efficiently, though awkwardly, as he was having to use pressurized gloves to mess with small wires, and had to wedge himself into an uncomfortable position in order to get it done. This is him below.
Both men were ahead of schedule on their duties, but this is when things took a strange turn. Parmitano felt water on the back of his neck. He initially assumed it was his drinking water or his sweat, but it was too cold for the later, and he couldn’t see any water coming out of his drinking valve. Houston terminated the mini-mission, and both men were instructed to return to the airlock. Cassidy went off to secure everything outside the Station, leaving Parmitano to head back alone.
But by that point the water had increased, getting to his headphones and covering the front of his visor. As he was moving around an antennae, things took a horrifying turn. “At that moment,” he wrote, “as I turn ‘upside down,’ two things happen: the Sun sets, and my ability to see — already compromised by the water — completely vanishes, making my eyes useless; 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.” Really, I could just quote the rest of his post verbatim, but I’d rather leave it on this cliffhanger and let you guys go and check it out for yourselves here.
Needless to say, Parmitano made it out of the ordeal safely and without any permanent damage done. I mean, his memories are fairly permanent, but you know what I mean. The video below shows part of the mission, including Parmitano’s troubles. If you pretend it’s a found-footage movie, it makes it 30% scarier.