In this image made from video provided by NASA, crew members of the International Space Station inspect the spacesuit of NASA astronaut Timothy Kopra, left, after a spacewalk with British spaceman Timothy Peake was cut short after water leaked into Kopra's helmet. (NASA via AP)Associated Press + More
By MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace Writer
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Two astronauts aborted their spacewalk Friday and hurried back into the International Space Station after water leaked into one of the men's helmets in a scary repeat of a near-drowning 2½ years ago.
The trouble cropped up after the astronauts — including Britain's 1st spacewalker — successfully restored full power to the space station.
NASA astronaut Timothy Kopra took everyone by surprise when he reported a small water bubble and then a film of water inside his helmet. Mindful of another spacewalker's close call in 2013, Mission Control terminated the planned six-hour spacewalk at the four-hour mark. It turns out Kopra was wearing the same spacesuit involved in the earlier incident.
"So far, I'm OK, " Kopra assured everyone. Later, he said the water bubble was 4 inches long and getting thicker.
"I'm doing good, " he repeated on his way back inside.
Lead flight director Royce Renfrew, who called an early end to the spacewalk, stressed that the situation was not an emergency and insisted neither spacewalker was in danger. Indeed, Kopra took time to thank everyone for their help as the air lock was pressurized.
An hour later, Kopra was safely inside his orbiting home, along with Timothy Peake, who attracted his own headlines by becoming Britain's first spacewalker Friday.
The astronauts waiting anxiously inside pulled off Kopra's helmet, then measured the water that had leaked, presumably from the suit's cooling system. That was the source of the leak last time. Space station commander Scott Kelly reported that he filled a syringe with about 15 cubic centimeters of water.
That's nothing, NASA officials pointed out, compared with the 1 to 1½ liters of water that escaped into Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano's helmet and suit in July 2013.
Kopra's suit was the same one Parmitano was wearing when his helmet flooded. This suit was refurbished following the 2013 incident. NASA said Kopra used the same suit for a spacewalk last month without any problem, and it had been used previously as well.
Despite the considerably smaller leak, the cap that Kopra wore on his head, under his helmet, was moist, as were other parts of his suit. As for Peake's suit, a quick look showed it to be dry save for a bit of moisture around the wrists.
Kopra and Peake completed their No. 1 job early on in the spacewalk. The pair quickly removed the voltage regulator that failed two months ago, slashing station power by one-eighth. The breakdown did not disrupt work 250 miles up, but NASA wanted the power grid fixed as soon as possible in case something else failed.
Working in darkness to avoid electrical shock from the solar power system, the astronauts quickly removed the bad unit and popped in a spare, both about the size of a 30-gallon aquarium. They had just 31 minutes to complete the job, the amount of nighttime on that particular swing around the world.
Following tests, Mission Control said the spare — dubbed Dusty for its 17-year tenure in orbit — appeared to be working properly.
Engineers suspect the original electronic unit suffered an internal electrical short. In the meantime, the station relied on the seven other power channels.