"I can hardly hear them, and they can't hear me. I'm alone. I frantically think of a plan," says Luca Parmitano, describing how he nearly drowned in his helmet during a spacewalk at the International Space Station last month.
Trying to imagine what it would be like to be in the middle of outer space as your helmet fills up with water seems impossible, but the 36-year-old Italian astronaut does such a good job of depicting the experience in a new blog post that it's easy to imagine how harrowing an experience it was.
"At one point, Chris squeezes my glove with his and I give him the universal 'OK' sign with mine. The last time he heard me speak was before entering the airlock!" Parmitano says, recounting his interaction with American colleague Chris Cassidy, who joined him on what was supposed to be a routine maintenance mission to investigate a leak.
“”I can hardly hear them and they can't hear me. I'm alone.
NASA is conducting intensive forensic work to figure out the cause of the leak but has still not found the root cause. But Parmitano's 1,600-word-plus write-up on his blog is full of specific details of how it all happened. He describes the start of the mission, the beginning of the water problems when the liquid began to cover his earphones and then prevented him from seeing and then hearing.
"The minutes of repressurization crawl by and finally, with an unexpected wave of relief, I see the internal door open and the whole team assembled there ready to help," he says of the moment when he realized he was going to be OK.
Ultimately, it's clear that Parmitano, who was selected as an astronaut in the European Space Agency in 2009, was beyond shaken by the experience but also reminded of just why he and others are in space to begin with.
"Space is a harsh, inhospitable frontier and we are explorers, not colonizers," he concludes in his blog post. "The skills of our engineers and the technology surrounding us make things appear simple when they are not, and perhaps we forget this sometimes. Better not to forget."