Leaky helmet forces early end to spacewalk

Image: Tim Kopra on spacewalk
NASA’s Tim Kopra works outside the International Space Station. Kopra and British crewmate Tim Peake had to end their spacewalk early due to water in Kopra’s helmet. (Credit: NASA TV)

Friday’s spacewalk at the International Space Station was called off early when NASA astronaut Tim Kopra reported a small bubble of water inside his spacesuit helmet.

NASA commentator Rob Navias said the crew “was never in any danger at all.” Kopra and his fellow spacewalker, Britain’s Tim Peake, got back inside the station safely. Nevertheless, the incident echoed a scary episode in 2013 when Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano nearly drowned inside his spacesuit. That forced a months-long investigation as well as the addition of absorbent pads and snorkels inside the U.S.-made suits.

The earlier water leak was traced to contamination that blocked up a water separator in the suit’s air-circulation system. A pool of water crept up into the helmet in zero-G and began to cover Parmitano’s face.

Things never got that far in Friday’s incident. As soon as Kopra reported moisture in the helmet, NASA went into a procedure to stop work, bring the astronauts back inside and get their suits off.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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