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July 18, 2013

NASA still perplexed by flooded helmet

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The spacewalking astronaut who came close to drowning in a flooded helmet searched for clues in his spacesuit Wednesday, in hopes of understanding the unprecedented water leak.

Engineers in Houston, meanwhile, conducted their own investigation into what should have been a routine, yet still risky, maintenance job outside the International Space Station.

But a day after one of NASA’s most harrowing spacewalks in decades, answers eluded the experts.

“There still is no smoking gun or definite cause of what happened or why that water ended up” inside Luca Parmitano’s spacesuit, said NASA spokesman Kelly Humphries.

Parmitano, Italy’s first and only spacewalker, could not hear or speak by the time he re-entered the space station on Tuesday, 11⁄2 hours after stepping out. He also had difficulty seeing because of the big globs of water in his helmet and elsewhere in his suit.

He’d worn the same suit on a spacewalk a week earlier, without mishap.

NASA aborted the second spacewalk because of the deluge and later acknowledged it was a serious situation in which Parmitano could have choked or even drowned. He looked all right, although wet, when his crewmates pulled off his helmet, and was reported to be in fine shape.

On Wednesday, Parmitano shined a long flashlight through the ring collar of his suit, while his colleague, American Christopher Cassidy, examined other equipment used Tuesday.

Nothing suspicious popped up, Humphries said.

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