Mystery of Astronaut's Leaky Helmet

About two weeks ago, Luca Parmitano found his helmet filling up with water during a spacewalk outside of the International Space Station. Water got into his ear cups, his eyes, and his nose. Astronaut Chris Cassidy recorded two videos that show off the two most likely components on Parmitano's space suit that could have malfunctioned.

The drink bag in the space suit keeps as astronaut hydrated during space walks, which can last for several hours. According to Cassidy, the pouch is mounted along the astronaut's belly, with the drinking tube opening out by his or her chin. "That holds about 32 ounces of water and that was the first place that was suspect," he said.

The other likely source of the leak are in the water tubes along the astronaut's cooling garment, a special long underwear-like garment that ensures the astronauts don't overheat while on a space walk. "It plugs into your suit with a connector that goes by your belly button," said Cassidy. "Maybe that was leaking."

Once the water started leaking, it trickled out through the space helmet's ventilation port, behind the neck of the helmet. A plastic barrier guides air from the back of the helmet upwards and funnels it around the front.

As a result of the air vent and space's lack of gravity, water wouldn't leak from the bottom-up as it might have on Earth. "[Water] went all the way around and started coming outside the edge of the white plastic," said Cassidy in the NASA video. "Capillary flow just brought the water all around his head."

As reported by The New Scientist, a repair kit has been delivered to the space station to fix Parmitano's suit. "The most important thing is that the suits are determined to be safe," said Cassidy, "so that whenever the next folks get outside, everything works well for them."

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