NASA cut short a planned six-hour spacewalk on Friday after one of the astronauts reported water in his helmet, a frightening repeat of a near-drowning more than two years ago.
NASA astronaut Timothy Kopra shocked Mission Control when he reported a small water bubble and a few minutes later, a film of water, inside his helmet. The US space agency swiftly terminated the spacewalk at the four-hour and 10-minute mark.
"So far, I'm OK," Mr. Kopra assured everyone. He said later that the water bubble was 4 inches long and getting bigger. "I'm doing good," he repeated.
Fortunately the incident occurred after Kopra and Timothy Peake, Britain’s first astronaut, had successfully restored full power to the International Space Station (ISS). The pair removed a voltage regulator that failed two months ago, cutting the station’s power by one-eighth, and replaced it with a spare.
The water in Kopra’s helmet was believed to have leaked from the cooling loop in his suit. Crewmates onboard the ISS waited anxiously with towels to mop it up. They planned to use a syringe to take a water sample and retrieve the helmet absorption pad to make a final determination of what caused the leak.
NASA said it ended the spacewalk two hours early – cancelling several additional maintenance chores – as a precaution. It insisted that neither astronaut was in danger. Kopra even took time to thank everyone for their help as the air lock was repressurized.
NASA tightened its safety procedures after a spacesuit worn by Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano leaked during a spacewalk in July 2013, nearly causing him to drown. The incident spurred the space agency to add absorbent pads to helmets and establish other precautions for future spacewalks – all of which came in handy on Friday.
Mr. Parmitano tweeted Friday afternoon that he was happy to see the two astronauts make it safely back inside the ISS.
“This is how I measure success,” he tweeted, “1)crew-safe 2)main objective-completed.”
This report includes material from the Associated Press.