Space can be a scary place, the only thing keeping you alive being a highly advanced suit tethered to a spacecraft or station. When a problem is found in these suits, it risks catastrophe for the astronauts in question. This is why Friday’s ISS spacewalk was cut short by mission control after US astronaut Tim Kopra found water was building up in his helmet. Thankfully, both Tim Kopra and his partner on the spacewalk, British astronaut Tim Peake made it back inside the space station safe and sound.
The crew is safely back inside the airlock, the hatch is closed, and we are beginning to repress the airlock. #askNASA
— Doug Wheelock (@Astro_Wheels) January 15, 2016
The water was first discovered by Kopra at 16:56 GMT, just over 4 hours into the 6.5 hour planned spacewalk, at which point mission controllers on the ground decided to terminate the EVA as a precaution. At this point, the two astronauts had already accomplished their primary objective, repairing a faulty power module, and had set about performing secondary tasks. By 17:31, both astronauts were safely back inside the International Space Station.
“I could definitely tell the sides were swollen,” Kopra stated in reference to his helmet’s moisture-absorbing pad. “The first time I noticed it was probably just about the same time that I saw the water start to come down from the top, and it was fairly noticeable. The difference between nominal and what I initially felt was pretty small.”
This isn’t the first time that water has found its way into the helmet of an astronaut on a spacewalk, with a similar case occurring in July 2013, to Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano. In that case, the leak was determined to stem from the space suit’s water-circulating cooling system, which had sprung a leak. Kopra’s issue was far less severe, with less water being present in his helmet. The water in Kopra’s helmet was cold, which would hint at it being from the cooling system, rather than a problem with the drink bag’s bite valve, which is kept at ambient temperature. NASA have ordered those onboard the ISS to take water samples from the helmets of the two astronauts in order to determine the cause of the leak.
Image credit to astronaut Tim Peake