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Kopra spacewalking
NASA astronaut Tim Kopra works outside the International Space Station. Kopra and his British crewmate, Tim Peake, had to end their spacewalk early due to the presence of water in Kopra’s helmet. (Credit: NASA TV)

Today’s spacewalk at the International Space Station was called off early when NASA astronaut Tim Kopra reported a small bubble of water inside his spacesuit helmet.

NASA commentator Rob Navias said the crew “was never in any danger at all.” Kopra and his fellow spacewalker, Britain’s Tim Peake, got back inside the station safely. Nevertheless, the incident echoed a scary episode in 2013 when Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano nearly drowned inside his spacesuit. That forced a months-long investigation as well as the addition of absorbent pads and snorkels inside the U.S.-made suits.

The earlier water leak was traced to contamination that blocked up a water separator in the suit’s air-circulation system. A pool of water crept up into the helmet in zero-G and began to cover Parmitano’s face.

Things never got that far in today’s incident. As soon as Kopra reported moisture in the helmet, NASA went into a procedure to stop work, bring the astronauts back inside and get their suits off. The spacewalk was scheduled to go on for six and a half hours but ended up lasting just four hours and 43 minutes.

After he was back inside, Kopra told Mission Control that he was “doing good.”

Sampling helmet water
NASA astronaut Tim Kopra, still wearing his spacesuit, turns around to talk with his crewmates while crewmate Scott Kelly (lower center) collects water samples from Kopra’s helmet. (Credit: NASA TV)

The operation’s main task, replacing a failed voltage regulator on the station’s truss, was completed before the problem cropped up. That returned the space station to full power capability. The tasks that were left undone can be added to the agenda for future outings. However, it’s not yet clear whether the investigation into the leak will affect the spacewalk schedule.

Kopra reported that the water in his helmet was cold, and Navias said that was a clue that the leak had something to do with the water-circulating cooling loop inside the suit. The space station’s crew, including commander Scott Kelly, worked to gather evidence from the helmet, including water samples.

“I got most of the water I could get,” Kelly told Mission Control.

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