Wednesday, February 26, 2014


This NASA video excerpt shows Luca Parmitano's emergency abort of his July 16, 2013 spacewalk.

During a teleconference event today, NASA released a report identifying the causes of the water leak inside astronaut Luca Parmitano's helmet during a July 16, 2013 spacewalk that nearly caused him to drown.

According to the summary presentation released today, “The hardware failure has been traced to contamination in a portion of the spacesuit called the Fan Pump Separator, but the source of the contamination has not yet been determined.”

NASA revealed the water leak occurred at the end of Parmitano's last spacewalk one week earlier on July 9, 2013, but it was dismissed as a leaky water bag.

According to the summary, “This event was not properly investigated which could have prevented placing a crew member at risk a week later.”

Contributing to the severity of the event was the failure of the flight control team in Mission Control, as well as the crew, to immediately terminate the spacewalk as soon as water was detected in the helmet.

In the above video, you can watch in real time as Parmitano reports the leak, then Mission Control deliberates what to do as the anomaly worsens.

The report contains 49 recommendations grouped into three levels of importance.

The first recommendation is:

The ISS Program must reiterate to all team members that, if they feel that crew time is needed to support their system, a request and associated rationale must be elevated to the ISS Program for an appropriate decision.

According to the summary, the investigation board “did not find any evidence that fear, intimidation, or an unwillingness to raise safety concerns contributed to this event. Schedule pressure and pressure to maximize crew time used to perform science was so ingrained in the team that risks associated with their decisions to not request on orbit time for important activities were not always communicated to ISS managers.”

For some observers, including me, this harkens back to similar findings after the Challenger and Columbia accidents.

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