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Astronaut Luca Parmitano seen through the small window of the Space Station s Quest airlock. ESA Astronaut Luca Parmitano seen through the small window of the Space Station's Quest airlock. ESA

Spacewalker in a fishbowl

Sen— Luca Parmitano has spoken about his recent scare during a spacewalk outside the International Space Station, when his helmet filled with water.

The spacewalk was cut short as both Parmitano and fellow spacewalker Chris Cassidy were directed to re-enter the space station. Water inside the helmet can be extremely dangerous in zero gravity and it was fortunate that Parmitano managed to get back inside the station before drowning.

The spacewalk was the second of two in July conducted by Parmitano -- the first Italian to spacewalk -- and NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy. The main purpose of July's EVAs (Extra Vehicular Activities) was to prepare for a new Russian module that will be fitted to the orbiting complex later this year. 

The first spacewalk completed successfully on July 9. It was during the second spacewalk on July 16 when the potentially life-threatening situation occurred. 

Writing about the event in his blog, Parmitano described how he began to feel the sensation of water filling up in his helmet, and how he could feel it increasing. After advising mission controllers in Houston, Parmitano and Cassidy were ordered to terminate the EVA and return inside the station. 

Parmitano writes: "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. I can’t see more than a few centimetres in front of me, not even enough to make out the handles we use to move around the Station.

"I try to contact Chris and Shane: I listen as they talk to each other, but their voices are very faint now: I can hardly hear them and they can’t hear me. I’m alone. I frantically think of a plan. It’s vital that I get inside as quickly as possible." 

By the time Parmitano reached the airlock his helmet had filled with so much water that he had feel his way into the airlock with his eyes closed. Parmitano described the sensation: "Imagine walking around with your eyes closed in a fishbowl." The drama of the spacewalk has been captured in a newly released video from the European Space Agency (ESA).

ESA said in a statement: "Luca demonstrated that the 2009 astronaut selection was right: he had nerves of steel in a life-threatening situation where many of us might have panicked. Bravo Luca!"

The spacewalk lasted 1 hour 32 minutes, the second shortest in space station history. It was the 171st spacewalk connected with the support and maintenance of the space station.

A further spacewalk to continue preparations for the Russian module took place on August 16 with cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Alexander Misurki. Another spacewalk is planned for Thursday August 22 with Yurchikhin and Misurki.

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