NASA calls off most spacewalks after water found in another astronaut’s helmet

Water found in ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer’s helmet in March

Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) With Water in Helmet During Post-EVA 23 Screening Test, from the "International Space Station (ISS) EVA Suit Water Intrusion High Visibility Close Call" report published by NASA Dec. 20, 2013. (NASA)

HOUSTON – NASA officials said Tuesday that non-emergency spacewalks at the International Space Station using aging shuttle-era spacesuits are “no-go” pending review of a recent incident in which an astronaut found water in their helmet after an excursion.

According to a report from CBS News, that latest incident happened on March 23 as astronaut Kayla Barron found water in the helmet of European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer while helping him out of his equipment, noting that 50% of his visor was coated with a thin film of water and the absorption pad at the back of his helmet was damp.

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Though the mental imagery of a thin film of water could be compared to fog on swimming goggles, which would seem more annoying than life-threatening, the reason that absorbent pad is there in the first place gives context to NASA’s hesitation.

A spacewalk on July 16, 2013 — termed by NASA itself as a “high visibility close call” in the ensuing incident report — saw the helmet of Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano fill with water due to a clogged filter in his spacesuit. As Parmitano’s mouth, eyes, ears and nose filled with water during a spacewalk, his calmness in returning to the airlock may have been what saved his life, NASA said at the time. Back on the space station, 1.5 liters of water was found inside of Parmitano’s helmet, prompting NASA to issue the absorbent pads from there on out.

The initial conclusion was that a problem had occurred with Parmitano’s drink bag, but it was found that water had entered Parmitano’s helmet a week earlier at the end of another spacewalk. Similar to now, NASA halted all non-emergency spacewalks with the suits — called extra-vehicular mobility units (EVAs) — until the problem was identified.

Now, NASA will send Maurer’s helmet back to Earth on a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule for engineers to take a look at it. Currently, four spacewalks scheduled throughout the remainder of 2022 are on hold depending on what those engineers find.

If emergency spacewalks are needed, they would need to be approved on a case-by-case basis after “risk-versus-risk” assessments, according to Dana Weigel with the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

“Depending upon what has failed and what the risk is to the spacecraft and to the mission overall, we’ll look at where we are with the investigation, where we are with the additional mitigations that we’re putting in place and we’ll specifically make a call based on the contingency and where we are at the given moment,” Weigel said.

Read the full story on CBS News by clicking here.

About the Author:

Brandon, a UCF grad, joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021. Before joining News 6, Brandon worked at WDBO.