Luca Parmitano discusses his space suit emergency with European and Italian space agency officials. The Italian Air Force test pilot is slated to remain aboard the ISS until November. Photo Credit: NASA TV.
European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano received praise Friday from Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta, Italian Space Agency president Enrico Saggese and others for his stoic response to the water that flooded his spacesuit helmet earlier this week, prompting an abrupt and dramatic end to his spacewalk with his NASA companion Chris Cassidy.
"I imagine it’s a unique memorable experience," Letta remarked in an exchange from Rome televised by NASA TV. "Can you give me an idea of what it is like to be afraid?
Less than an hour into what was to be a 6 1/2 spacewalk, the Italian Air Force test pilot sensed cool water at the back of his helmeted head. The situation quickly grew more serious as Cassidy arrived at his side. As water covered his ears, NASA's Mission Control called an early end to the excursion.
While the 36-year-old first time space traveler made his way to the safety of the station's airlock, water seeped around his eyes and nose. Parmitano was forced to rely on memory and training to work his way into the airlock.
"I could not hear or see. Only my instinct guided me towards the air lock," Parmitano told Letta. "The training brought me through. At that point, there is no room for fear. There is only room for trying to come up with a plan of action."
Luca Parmitano, lower left, works with NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg, left center, on Friday to prepare NASA spacesuits for future excursions. Photo Credit: NASA TV.
Aware that the watery buildup might invade his mouth, Parmitano prepared to open a purge valve in his helmet to force the water out with air pressure. Once in the airlock, he planned to open his helmet -- if necessary -- to evacuate the water during the re-pressurization. He'd wait though until the pressure rose to a relatively safe level, he explained.
"I would have probably passed out, but I would not have drowned. So, the ability to think in a linear way, even during risky moments, is due to training," Parmitano recounted. "In situations like this one, we remind ourselves that space is still a frontier, with danger."
Parmitano was also greeted by Thomas Reiter, the German astronaut and European Space Agency director of human spaceflight and operations.
The Italian Air Force was briefed on the incident prior to Friday’s ISS telecast, Reiter told his colleague.
"It's great to see you in good health," said Reiter. "Of course, we are following all the work you are doing and will be doing in the coming weeks and months. We are very proud of you. You did a great job in this critical situation."
An investigation into the cause of the leak continued Friday at NASA's Johnson Space Center. There is a special concern whether other NASA shuttle era space suits like the one worn by Parmitano could be vulnerable as well.
Meanwhile, Parmitano joined in efforts to prepare Cassidy's and a second NASA spac suit on the ISS for use -- if an external problem arose that warranted a quick spacewalk response. Parmitano's suit has been set aside in the condition it was in when he removed it to aid in the investigation.