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NASA still perplexed by astronaut's flooded helmet

Posted: July 18, 2013 7:00 a.m.
Updated: July 18, 2013 7:00 a.m.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — The spacewalking astronaut who came close to drowning in a flooded helmet searched for clues in his spacesuit Wednesday, in hopes of understanding the unprecedented water leak.

Engineers in Houston, meanwhile, conducted their own investigation into what should have been a routine, yet still risky, maintenance job outside the International Space Station.

But a day after one of NASA's most harrowing spacewalks in decades, answers eluded the experts.

"There still is no smoking gun or definite cause of what happened or why that water ended up" inside Luca Parmitano's spacesuit, said NASA spokesman Kelly Humphries.

Parmitano, Italy's first and only spacewalker, could not hear or speak by the time he re-entered the space station on Tuesday, 1½ hours after stepping out. He also had difficulty seeing because of the big globs of water in his helmet and elsewhere in his suit.

He'd worn the same suit on a spacewalk a week earlier, without mishap.

NASA aborted the second spacewalk because of the deluge and later acknowledged it was a serious situation in which Parmitano could have choked or even drowned. He looked all right, although wet, when his crewmates pulled off his helmet, and was reported to be in fine shape.

"Back to normality on the ISS - Cupola is still a fantastic sight, even after a (very short) EVA," Parmitano wrote Wednesday in a tweet. EVA is NASA shorthand for spacewalk: extravehicular activity. He followed with photos of Italy's Lake Como, the Italian Alps and the Rimini sea resort that he snapped from the station's cupola, or observation deck.

NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg, a crewmate, added via Twitter: "Just happy Luca's safe!"

On Wednesday, Parmitano shined a long flashlight through the ring collar of his suit, while his colleague, American Christopher Cassidy, examined other equipment used Tuesday.

Nothing suspicious popped up, Humphries said.

There are only two sources of water in the suit: a 32-ounce drink bag and a 1-gallon cooling system embedded in long underwear.

NASA has pretty much ruled out the drink pouch. That leaves the cooling system. Specialists detected a higher than normal usage of water from the system's tanks, which could be consistent with Tuesday's leakage, Humphries said.

"No real theory yet on exactly where this water came from or why, but they are doing a very deliberate step by step process of troubleshooting to try to identify what's going on," he said.


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