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ISS astronaut recounts near-drowning during spacewalk

Rome, Aug 22 (): An Italian astronaut has described the terrifying minutes he experienced during a space walk and he only just made it back into the International Space Station (ISS).

Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano yesterday wrote on his blog from the International Space Station, recounting the terrifying minutes he experienced last month when he felt he was drowning in his spacesuit after it sprang a still unexplained leak during a space walk.

Parmitano wrote on his blog that he felt liquid on his neck shortly after starting the July 16 space walk and was blinded and suffocating as the water slowly rose. His fear started rising when water began filling his helmet.

The 36-year-old astronaut, who is a major in the Italian Air Force, was making just his second space walk then. He was not sure which direction to head to reach the trapdoor of the station. He made an effort to contact his space walking partner, American Christopher Cassidy, and Mission Control. Their voices grew faint, and no one could hear him.

More complications emerged. He wrote, “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 cannot 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”.

He desperately thought of a plan to get back to the safety of the air lock. That’s when he remembered his safety cable. He used the cable recoil mechanism, and its 3 pounds (1.3 kilograms) of force, to “pull” him back to the hatch.

He continued writing his escape, “It’s not much, but it’s the best idea I have: to follow the cable to the airlock. I move for what seems like an eternity (but I know it’s just a few minutes). Finally, with a huge sense of relief, I peer through the curtain of water before my eyes and make out the thermal cover of the airlock: just a little further, and I’ll be safe.”

The trouble happened barely an hour into what was to be a six-hour spacewalk to perform cabling work and other routine maintenance. The US space agency NASA is studying the incident and has put off all of its spacewalks until the problem is fixed.

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