They’ve earned themselves a loyal following and a nickname: they are the “spacewalking cable guys.” Thousands of people have watched astronauts Terry Virts and Barry Wilmore as NASA TV livestreamed their Extravehicular Activity (EVA) in the past week. But the dangers inherent in manned space missions and EVA in particular were brought to the forefront on Wednesday (February 25) at the conclusion of the second of their series of three spacewalks from the International Space Station.
Upon returning to the space station at the conclusion of a spacewalk that lasted nearly seven hours, Virts found moisture building up on the faceplate of his helmet. He informed European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti who supported the team from inside the ISS, and she alerted mission control in Houston: “Terry was saying he’s got some water in his helmet, he just noticed it a minute ago. It’s about 3 inches in diameter, it’s kind of pooling on the front side of the helmet above his eye level, and he does feel a little bit of squishiness in the back of the HAP (helmet absorption pad).”
This is not the first time this problem has appeared. In 2013, Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano nearly drowned when his helmet filled with water during his spacewalk. That spacewalk was cut short and he had to be helped back inside the space station by fellow astronaut Christopher Cassidy. This time, though, the leak happened when Virts was already back in the air lock, and NASA officials say that he was not in danger at any time. The amount of water was relatively small, producing a patch of moisture on the faceplate of the helmet. Virts is seen in video taken by his fellow astronauts blowing bubbles in the water.
Following the earlier incident, a new spacesuit was shipped out to the ISS and one of the old suits was repaired. Virts was wearing the old suit. The problem will be discussed at a scheduled mission management meeting on Friday, when NASA will decide whether to go ahead the third spacewalk, scheduled for Sunday.
The spacewalks are intended to reconfigure the ISS in preparation for commercial spacecraft flights starting later this year. Expedition 42 is due to end March 12, when their capsule is scheduled to undock and land in Kazakhstan.