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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A spacewalking astronaut ended up with unwanted water in his helmet Wednesday after breezing through a cable and lube job outside the International Space Station. The leak was scarily reminiscent of a near-drowning outside the orbiting complex nearly two years ago.
This time, the amount of water was relatively small — essentially a big blob of water floating inside NASA astronaut Terry Virts' helmet. In the summer of 2013, Italian spacewalker Luca Parmitano's helmet actually flooded. He barely made it back inside. Virts was never in any danger, Mission Control stressed, and he never reported any water during his six and a half hours outside.
This was the second spacewalk in five days for Virts and NASA crewmate Butch Wilmore. They encountered no trouble while routing cables for future American crew capsules, which are due to arrive in a couple years. Three spacewalks had been planned, with the next one Sunday, but its status was uncertain given Wednesday's mishap. Managers will meet on Friday, as planned, to discuss the situation.
Wednesday's spacewalk had just ended and the two astronauts were inside the air lock, with the hatches closed, when the incident occurred. The air lock was being repressurized when Virts first noticed the water. He said he reported it about a minute later. The absorbent pad inside the back of Virts' helmet was damp, but not saturated, said Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, one of the station's six crew members. The pad became standard procedure after the 2013 emergency.
The water — cold to the touch with a chemical taste — most likely came from the suit's cooling system, the source of the leak in 2013. NASA spent months investigating that earlier mishap before clearing the way for more spacewalks.
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