On Wednesday NASA admitted that the near-death of Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano may have been avoided if they had paid attention to earlier warning signs. The incident occurred last July when Parmitano was doing a spacewalk and nearly drowned.
Parmitano was conducting a spacewalk on the International Space Station to do some routine cable work. Around 45 minutes in Parmitano began reporting that water was rapidly building up in his helmet and starting to cling to his face. It is believed that a leak in the astronauts drinking bag is responsible. It took NASA nearly 23 minutes to order Parmitano back in to the space station to safety. By the time he returned to the station water had begun to creep into his eyes and nose, effectively almost drowning the astronaut.
It was supposed to be a landmark event; Parmitano is the first Italian to ever perform a spacewalk. He set out with fellow US astronaut Chris Cassidy to do some routine work on the space station. Just under an hour in to the walk on July 16th they had to call it off when the leak began. Cassidy was reporting to mission control at the time and yet it still took NASA 23 minutes to make the call to bring Parmitano back in to safety. If NASA knew the leak was occurring, why would they wait 23 minutes and cause the near-death of one of the astronauts?
In today’s press conference NASA admitted that Parmitano’s spacesuit had been having the same problem during a spacewalk the week before. NASA says that they did not take the leak too seriously because drink bags tend to leak and the staff has an impulse to maximize every minute dedicated to scientific endeavors. NASA seemed to dodge questions about the severity of the leak in the suit and claim that both Cassidy and Parmitano where close enough to the airlock when the issue arose that it didn’t seem to be a big issue and that Parmitano’s vision only became obscured by the water once he neared the station.
The report went on to list recommendations for how NASA can avoid similar situations in the future. It also stressed how better management skills could be implemented and said that teams should work more closely together and report any issues immediately.
The suit that Parmitano was wearing is over 35-years-old and the actual cause of the leak is still unknown. NASA has narrowed it down to some kind of hardware failure within the fan pump separator. Scientists are currently researching new suits, since it appears that NASA’s supply wardrobe closet is a little dated.
Astronauts put their life willing on the line every time they go on a mission. From launch to landing every minute is an unsure one and every successful mission a lucky one. A million little things can go wrong that are unforeseeable even by the smartest of scientist. Even when Parmitano has safely returned a fire could have broken out when drying his suit since the water shorted some of the electrical components. Many space accidents no one can be held responsible for, it’s just the risk one takes when they are an astronaut. However, in this case, NASA may be responsible for the near-death of an astronaut.
By Adam Stier