Astronaut with flooded helmet felt like goldfish

MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace Writer
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In this image from video made available by NASA, Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano, right, describes the water in his helmet on the Tuesday, July 16, 2013 spacewalk with U.S. astronaut Chris Cassidy, right, during a news conference with U.S. astronaut Karen Nyberg on the International Space Station on Thursday, July 13, 2013. (AP Photo/NASA)

In this image from video made available by NASA, Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano, right, describes the water in his helmet on the Tuesday, July 16, 2013 spacewalk with U.S. astronaut Chris Cassidy, right, during a news conference with U.S. astronaut Karen Nyberg on the International Space Station on Thursday, July 13, 2013. (AP Photo/NASA)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Now he knows what it’s like to be a goldfish in a fishbowl.

Two days after his helmet flooded during a spacewalk, astronaut Luca Parmitano relived the experience Thursday, describing how water kept trickling into his helmet until big globs covered his eyes, then his nose. It was hard to see, he said, and he could not hear.

“For a couple of minutes there, maybe more than a couple of minutes, I experienced what it’s like to be a goldfish in a fishbowl — from the point of view of the goldfish,” Parmitano said in a TV interview from the International Space Station.

Parmitano said he used his memory to make his way back into the space station. His spacewalking partner, Christopher Cassidy, was a big help.

The 36-year-old Italian Air Force officer said he was “miserable but OK” as Tuesday’s spacewalk came to an abrupt end.

“Imagine walking around with your eyes closed in a fishbowl. Really, that’s what was going on … It’s just a very uncomfortable feeling to be with your face underwater for all that time,” he said.

Parmitano, a former test pilot, said he was lucky to get back inside so quickly. He figures there was 3 pounds of water floating inside his helmet when his crewmates yanked it off; that’s nearly a half-gallon.

NASA managers have said Parmitano could have choked or drowned, and praised his calmness during the ordeal.

Parmitano’s colleagues grabbed towels to mop his bald head once the 1½-hour spacewalk ended. Some water bubbles escaped and floated away.

The astronauts as well as engineers in Houston are still trying to figure out what went wrong. Parmitano’s drink bag has been ruled out. The only other possibility is the cooling system for his suit. Parmitano said his long underwear, containing water tubes, appears to be fine.

“I’m sure that they will find both the problem and the solution,” Parmitano said.

Parmitano became Italy’s first spacewalker last week. His spacesuit functioned perfectly the first time around. Tuesday’s excursion was a continuation of the maintenance work, none of which was urgent.

The trouble began barely an hour into Spacewalk 2.

Parmitano said he felt cold water on the back of his head. Within a few minutes, he felt it covering his ears.

“The water kept trickling until it completely covered my eyes and my nose,” Parmitano said.

The sun was setting as the spacewalkers made their way back, making it harder to maneuver in the darkness.

“All those things sort of came together at the perfect storm, so to speak, for us to deal with,” Cassidy told TV reporters.

Cassidy said the space station crew reviewed the spacewalk procedures in advance and discussed possible emergencies.

“But lo and behold, what happened was not one of those items that we discussed,” said Cassidy, 43, a former Navy SEAL.

“My own gut feeling,” Cassidy said, “I knew it was time to end it when I saw the water creeping around his communications cap, kind of right by his eyelid. I knew that was a significant amount of water to be in a helmet, and it was time to go in.”

Parmitano was low key as he recounted the experience. Once the helmet came off, he said, “that was the end of it.”

Spare spacesuits are on board in the event of a space station emergency. NASA wants to be certain the problem is isolated to Parmitano’s suit before sending any more astronauts outside.

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