Luca Parmitano Shared Exactly How It Feels to Start Drowning in Space

During a spacewalk, the Italian astronaut’s helmet filled with water

Alexanda Hulme

Space is full of dangers—black holes, asteroids, the lack of oxygen. But drowning is probably not something you ever thought astronauts had to worry about. But last month, during a spacewalk, astronaut Luca Parmitano nearly drowned in space.

Parmitano recently recounted the incident in his blog. He was fastening cables to some external sockets on the International Space Station, when his helmet suddenly began to fill with water. It was slow at first, just a little wetness. They thought perhaps it was drinking water or sweat. But it got worse. Parmitano writes:

At that moment, as I turn ‘upside-down’, two things happen: the Sun sets, and my ability to see – already compromised by the water – completely vanishes, making my eyes useless; but worse than that, the water covers my nose – a really awful sensation that I make worse by my vain attempts to move the water by shaking my head. By now, the upper part of the helmet is full of water and I can’t even be sure that the next time I breathe I will fill my lungs with air and not liquid. To make matters worse, I realise that I can’t even understand which direction I should head in to get back to the airlock. I can’t see more than a few centimetres in front of me, not even enough to make out the handles we use to move around the Station.

I try to contact Chris and Shane: I listen as they talk to each other, but their voices are very faint now: I can hardly hear them and they can’t hear me. I’m alone. I frantically think of a plan. It’s vital that I get inside as quickly as possible. I know that if I stay where I am, Chris will come and get me, but how much time do I have? It’s impossible to know.

Slowly, with his eyes mostly closed, Parmitano made his way to the airlock and waited for depressurization. His spacewalking partner Chris joined him. The water had cut off his contact with the space station, and no one had heard from Parmitano since he got into the airlock. Thankfully, Parmitano made it out okay, just a little wet. But it reminded him, he says, never to forget just how harsh and inhospitable space can be.

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