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August 21, 2013 2:40 PM   Subscribe

A few weeks ago, Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano (@astro_luca) almost drowned during a spacewalk when his helmet started uncontrollably filling with water, possibly from a leaky spacesuit cooling system. (See previous MeFi discussion on the incident.) A week later, his fellow ISS astronaut Chris Cassidy posted two videos online showing the actual spacesuit and using it to illustrate the problem. All future US and European spacewalks have been halted while the incident is being investigated, although the Russian ones are continuing, as they use different suits. Yesterday, Luca published a scary new entry on his in-orbit blog, where he not only gave all the horror-movie details, but also revealed that he nearly chose to depressurize his suit outside the ISS in order to survive.
posted by Asparagirl (49 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don't want to be an astronaut anymore.
posted by blue t-shirt at 2:43 PM on August 21, 2013 [16 favorites]


You can survive a couple minutes in space without a spacesuit I think. Maybe.

yeah, like, the links, man
posted by IvoShandor at 2:49 PM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fuckin' space, man.
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 2:49 PM on August 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think I'll stick to exploring space metaphorically.
posted by b1tr0t at 2:52 PM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Reading the recounting by Parmitano noticably raised my heart rate. Yikes.
posted by figurant at 2:53 PM on August 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


I would still be an astronaut. Hell, I'd pay to do it.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 2:55 PM on August 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm surprised this wasn't a bigger news story (speaking from the US)?
posted by Bwithh at 2:58 PM on August 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Chris Cassidy has much to much personality. He's like a Ryan Gosling character in a Winding Refn movie.
posted by Napierzaza at 2:59 PM on August 21, 2013


You can survive a few minutes in space without a spacesuit, but it's the consciousness part that ain't so easy - about 15 or 20 seconds in, you'll pass out. Don't worry about your blood boiling or your head insta-freezing a la MISSION TO MARS - your blood is inside your body and so the boiling wouldn't happen very quickly, and because space is a vacuum, it makes temperature transfer difficult and rather slow, all things considered. The one thing that you do need to worry about is explosive decompression of your lungs - if you're holding your breath when you depressurize, your lungs' alveolar sacs will burst.

I would trade dying in a vacuum to dying of drowning any day of the week.
posted by incessant at 2:59 PM on August 21, 2013


Reading the recounting by Parmitano noticably raised my heart rate. Yikes.

Holy crap. You ain't kidding.
posted by yoink at 3:00 PM on August 21, 2013


I'm surprised this wasn't a bigger news story (speaking from the US)?

Oh, I can imagine why it was not.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:03 PM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you hold a lungful of air you can survive in the total vacuum of space for about thirty seconds. However, what with space being the mindboggling size it is, the chances of getting picked up by another ship within those thirty seconds are two to the power of two hundred and seventy-six thousand seven hundred and nine to one against.
posted by aubilenon at 3:08 PM on August 21, 2013 [29 favorites]


Fyodor and Pavel immediately pass me a towel and I thank them without hearing their words because my ears and nose will still be full of water for a few minutes more.

It's like when you think the movie is over and the thing comes lurching up the basement stairs one more time.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:12 PM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can't believe NASA has to resort to viral marketing for Gravity to make ends meet.


GAH.

I can't read the article or watch the trailer.
posted by GuyZero at 3:12 PM on August 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


That blog post was intense, good on Luca for keeping his cool. The irony of almost drowning in space illustrates just how deadly the environment is, even when you've trained for years and double and triple all the systems to keep you alive. If one thing goes wrong, it can become a very bad day.

I did a writeup of the video of Luca getting back on board the station. It was nerve wracking to see how many procedures and double checking they have to do, even in an emergency.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:16 PM on August 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I can't believe NASA has to resort to viral marketing for Gravity to make ends meet.

I highly recommend those with the ability to see Europa Report in HD to do so - it is scientastic and full of spectacularly harrowing space action with a *very* hard-sci technical feel that was brilliantly executed and shot. Something tells me 'Gravity':'Europa Report'::'Oblivion':'Moon'.
posted by FatherDagon at 3:16 PM on August 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm surprised this wasn't a bigger news story

It was a pretty big story when it happened. I certainly saw it everywhere online.
posted by yoink at 3:18 PM on August 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


The bit where he loses vision and stops being able to communicate with the rest of the crew sounds like it must have been truly harrowing. I can't imagine how difficult it must have been for him to remain calm in a situation like that. Well done everyone involved -- I hope they can sort the problem out soon, find a way to prevent it in the future, and get themselves back to work. I know everyone up there will be impatient to get back outside.
posted by Scientist at 3:18 PM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


A harrowing tale indeed, but it's been done before.

I keed. Nuff respect to him and the ground crew and his mates out in space. But how bad ass would Luca Parmitano be if he made that song his ringtone?
posted by lord_wolf at 3:20 PM on August 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


A harrowing tale indeed, but it's been done before.

I was expecting a link to The Abyss.
posted by The Michael The at 3:22 PM on August 21, 2013


blue t-shirt: "I don't want to be an astronaut anymore."

I don't wanna orbit this planet, anymore.
posted by symbioid at 3:22 PM on August 21, 2013


Space is disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence.
posted by Apocryphon at 3:29 PM on August 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Space is disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence.

Much like a Reno whorehouse at night, then.
posted by backseatpilot at 3:34 PM on August 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


If it had been Commander Hadfield, we'd already have three songs from the ISS about the event.
posted by Keith Talent at 3:34 PM on August 21, 2013


That blog post is so matter of fact about the events. I have no idea how he managed to stay so cool under that much stress.
posted by arcticseal at 3:37 PM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Space is a harsh, inhospitable frontier and we are explorers, not colonisers. The skills of our engineers and the technology surrounding us make things appear simple when they are not, and perhaps we forget this sometimes.

Better not to forget.


You know, I'd like to think that I would have such a reasonable, level-headed response to that experience, but I seriously doubt it. That's some nerves of steel.
posted by mstokes650 at 3:39 PM on August 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


tl;dr I got waterboarded in space by my suit.
posted by The Tensor at 3:42 PM on August 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


You know, I'd like to think that I would have such a reasonable, level-headed response to that experience, but I seriously doubt it. That's some nerves of steel.

Keep in mind that astronauts train for years, partially so that when accidents do occur, they have a solid foundation to fall back on during the emergency.

It's particularly scary to consider what could have happened if he didn't have straight shot back to the airlock.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:44 PM on August 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Wow, super freaky astronaut accident before movie about super freaky astronaut accident? I'm going to appreciate this movie more thinking about the million and one things that can go wrong when you are in outer space.

And I'm really glad that Luca Parmitano is okay. That's some heart-stopping, edge-of-your seat, hands-can't-stop-shaking stuff when it happens. I'm fairly certain I'd be frozen into indecision if I was in the same situation.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:46 PM on August 21, 2013


...Holy shit

If he indeed had ended up needing to perform a 'controlled' depressurization of his suit to not drown, wouldn't that have caused the water that froze to expand rapidly with a hell of a lot of force crushing his head and/or destroying the helmet?

Better not to forget indeed.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:53 PM on August 21, 2013


Gah! Having personally experienced a drysuit malfunction coupled with mask flood plus hyper-sensitivity due to a decongestant meant that I was overbreathing my regulator in seconds when a diving problem happened.

I can only guess the amount of control it took for him to not panic.
posted by mightshould at 5:01 PM on August 21, 2013


I look forward to the near future day when Russian skinhead punks participate in competitive space vacuum survival. I'll bet with training and practice, the stars of Jackass XV The Final Frontier could go a couple minutes, all while snorting wasabi and kicking each other in the nuts.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 5:12 PM on August 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


lord_wolf: A harrowing tale indeed, but it's been done before.

I am cross that you beat me to this because it popped into my head as soon as I read "I’m in a place where I’d rather not be surprised."
posted by curious.jp at 5:24 PM on August 21, 2013


Man-oh-man, that is some read. An absolute classic of space exploration. My eyes started to well up as I read it. Quite extraordinary.
posted by vac2003 at 5:38 PM on August 21, 2013


I know this is a controversial position to take, but: Astronauts are fuckin' rad.
posted by Divine_Wino at 6:27 PM on August 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


When I was a teenager I used to swim in a flooded quarry. I found a huge pipe in out in the middle. It was like 30 feet long and more than 20 feet down. I got the bright idea of swimming the inside from end to end. I got in about half way and couldn't see the exit. I decided I needed to go back, so I turned around and swam right into the side of the pipe. I'd either turned 90 degrees or 270. So I panicked and swam back, but then I had no idea which way I was going. It was taking too long to get to the end, so I decided I'd actually not gotten turned around at all and I needed to once again go back. At this point I had no idea which was was up, which way was out, and was certain I was dead. I picked a direction and swam. I barely made it out. I was powering to the surface, but was starting to get tunnel vision, and this most amazing sound started in my head I'd only once ever heard before, and that was a different incident where I'd struck my head hard enough to knock myself out. I was pretty close to blacking out and knew it. I was swimming as hard as I could. I got to about a foot, maybe less, from the surface and I inhaled water. Not just a little, but a deep lungful. I was lucky and came out right next to our inflatable raft. I grabbed ahold of it and spent the next 10 minutes coughing out water and then puking. I then realized because of where I broke through the surface that I'd come out of the same end of the pipe I'd gone into, and had I actually made it all the way through I would have had nothing to grab ahold of and would have probably not lived. Who knows how far I actually went in. I was bawling and scared shitless.

This was one of the handful of times that I came close to killing myself, and is a long way to say I think I have a fairly good idea what it would be like to die from drowning. This is not a good death, and is not the way to go.

It was weeks before I returned to that quarry and swam that pipe successfully.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:39 PM on August 21, 2013 [32 favorites]


I don't want to be a space suit designer anymore.
posted by Edward L at 6:40 PM on August 21, 2013


If he indeed had ended up needing to perform a 'controlled' depressurization of his suit to not drown, wouldn't that have caused the water that froze to expand rapidly with a hell of a lot of force crushing his head and/or destroying the helmet?

This comment by eriko from the previous thread sheds a little light on your question.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:02 PM on August 21, 2013


It was weeks before I returned to that quarry and swam that pipe successfully.

There may be something deeply terribly wrong with you (or maybe me)
posted by RustyBrooks at 7:33 PM on August 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


Fyodor and Pavel immediately pass me a towel and I thank them without hearing their words because my ears and nose will still be full of water for a few minutes more.

Ford Prefect's advice to Arthur Dent regarding towels has been proven by the astronauts of the ISS! Douglas Adams would be so proud.
posted by 1367 at 8:10 PM on August 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I monitored this incident live that morning. Honestly I wasn't paying much attention, until I got a tweet that they were terminating the EVA only 1.5 hours in. THAT got my attention.

If you are REALLY interested in getting insight into how exactly the spacesuits work, and what exactly NASA has been doing (at a frankly furious pace) ever since the incident to get to root cause, you want to spend a few bucks and get "Level 2" aka L2 access at this site:

http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/

NSF is an independent site that is a conduit for an enormous amount of internal NASA information, that gets routinely leaked out, apparently with mgmt's quiet blessing. In this case, here is the thread where they are closely following the EMU troubleshooting after Luca's incident. Again, you need to be a paying member to get to that link.

Other than the one-time $5 spent here, it's the only online forum I've ever paid for. The website is a little crude, and the main writer/editor's stiff style can make your eyes bleed (they're tech guys, not English majors), but it's the best place for getting the latest and greatest.
posted by intermod at 8:16 PM on August 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


As for why this wasn't a big story in the news, let's take a quick look at today's top stories at CNN.com:

Hawaii shark attack victim dies
Police: Mom lies about girl's cancer
'Partridge' star arrested | DMX, too
Biden's son undergoes 'procedure'
Braves star hit in face by pitch
MacFarlane show called racist
'Queen of the Pacific' deported
Man who brought Beatles to U.S. dies
'Prison Break' actor comes out

Is any of that really news? No, but they've got to follow the ratings. People click through stories like those above. "Spacesuit malfunction" gets nothing. It took days for enough information to come in for us to appreciate the fact that Luca nearly drowned. By then it was old news. Wiener! Filner! Et cetera.
posted by intermod at 8:23 PM on August 21, 2013


There was a recent space station segment of an astronaut doing an experiment on video for I believe a student who posed the question 'what happens when you wring out a wet towel in zero gravity?' The astronaut demonstrated what happened....the water squeezed out of the towel ran onto his hands and coated them in water, like shiny liquid gloves. It was kind of surreal. I would imagine that's what happened to the astronaut in the space suit. The liquid surrounded his head and surface tension in zero gravity kept it there.
posted by diode at 8:40 PM on August 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you hold a lungful of air you can survive in the total vacuum of space for about thirty seconds. However, what with space being the mindboggling size it is, the chances of getting picked up by another ship within those thirty seconds are two to the power of two hundred and seventy-six thousand seven hundred and nine to one against.

posted by aubilenon at 4:08 PM


Never tell me the odds!!!
posted by azpenguin at 9:02 PM on August 21, 2013


diode: "The astronaut demonstrated what happened....the water squeezed out of the towel ran onto his hands and coated them in water, like shiny liquid gloves. "

It was Major Tom Chris Hadfield. Awesome video, though I got a bit stressed out by the drops of water floating off towards all that exposed wiring.
posted by vanar sena at 9:47 PM on August 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


In space, no one can hear you blub blub blub…
posted by schwa at 10:49 PM on August 21, 2013


If you hold a lungful of air you can survive in the total vacuum of space for about thirty seconds.

Say goodbye to your lungs if you do that...
posted by atrazine at 1:26 AM on August 22, 2013


Ad astra per aspera
posted by chavenet at 2:03 AM on August 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


That was a lot more frightening than I realised, what with the loss of vision and contact.

Ironically, Luca himself made a jokey response video to the video about washing your hair in space where he squirts a blob of water on to his head.
posted by lucidium at 8:17 AM on August 22, 2013


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