Luca Parmitano & EVA 23

Luca Parmitano, born on September 27, 1976 in Paternò, Sicily, is an Italian engineer and astronaut in the European Astronaut Corps for the European Space Agency (ESA). The European Astronaut Corps is a unit of the European Space Agency (ESA) that selects, trains, and provides astronauts as crew members on U.S. and Russian space missions. The European Astronaut Corps is based at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany. They can be assigned to various projects both in Europe (at ESTEC, for instance) or elsewhere in the world, at NASA Johnson Space Center or Star City.

In February 2011, Luca Parmitano was assigned as a flight engineer to Expedition 36/37 (a long-duration mission to the International Space Station) which launched aboard Soyuz TMA-09M on May 28, 2013 and arrived at the ISS on May 29. In May 2013, Luca Parmitano partnered with his 15-year-old mentee Abigail Harrison to have her serve as his Earth Liaison during his mission on Expedition 36 and Expedition 37.

In July 2013, shortly after the EVA 23 began, the helmet of Luca Parmitano began filling with water, resulting in a termination of the spacewalk. As he made his way back to the airlock, the water covered his eyes and nose, blinding and nearly drowning him. When Luca Parmitano tried to navigate his way along the truss and back to safety, the ISS passed though orbital sunset into complete darkness, leaving Luca Parmitano without communications; lost and totally alone.

The second EVA of Luca Parmitano was terminated after only one hour and thirty-two minutes, when the helmet of his Extravehicular Mobility Unit suit started filling with water. Water in the helmet of Luca Parmitano posed the danger of drowning and made his return to the Quest Joint Airlock even more difficult, as Orbital Sunset had occurred just before he started to return. Engineers found that contamination had clogged one of the suit’s filters, causing water from the suit’s cooling system to back up. On January 15, 2016, astronaut Timothy Kopra experienced like Luca Parmitano a water leak in the same spacesuit. Luca Parmitano returned to Earth on November 11, 2013 aboard Soyuz TMA-09M.

Extravehicular activity (EVA)

Extravehicular activity (EVA) is any activity done by a spationaut, an astronaut or cosmonaut outside a spacecraft beyond the Earth’s appreciable atmosphere. The term most commonly applies to a spacewalk made outside a craft orbiting Earth (such as the International Space Station), but also has applied to lunar surface exploration (commonly known as Moonwalks) performed by six pairs of American astronauts in the Apollo program from 1969 to 1972. On each of the last three of these missions, astronauts also performed deep-space EVAs on the return to Earth, to retrieve film canisters from the outside of the spacecraft. Astronauts also used EVA in 1973 to repair launch damage to Skylab, the United States’ first space station.

A Stand-up EVA (SEVA) is when an astronaut does not fully leave a spacecraft, but is completely reliant on the spacesuit for environmental support. Its name derives from the astronaut standing up in the open hatch, usually to record or assist a spacewalking astronaut. EVAs may be either tethered (the astronaut is connected to the spacecraft; oxygen and electrical power can be supplied through an umbilical cable; no propulsion is needed to return to the spacecraft), or untethered. Untethered spacewalks were only performed on three missions in 1984 using the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU), and on a flight test in 1994 of the Simplified Aid For EVA Rescue (SAFER), a safety device worn on tethered U.S. EVAs.

Luca Parmitano & EVA 23

This story was taken from the ESA blog of Luca Parmitano:

My eyes are closed as I listen to Chris counting down the atmospheric pressure inside the airlock – it’s close to zero now. But I’m not tired – quite the reverse! I feel fully charged, as if electricity and not blood were running through my veins. I just want to make sure I experience and remember everything. I’m mentally preparing myself to open the door because I will be the first to exit the Station this time round. Maybe it’s just as well that it’s night time: at least there won’t be anything to distract me”.

Chris partially connected the first cable last week, so I get hold of the part that is still unattached and I guide it carefully towards the socket. After a little initial difficulty, I inform Houston that I have completed the task and I’m ready for the second cable. After getting hold of the next cable, I move into what I think is the most difficult position to work from on the whole Station: I’m literally wedged between three different modules, with my visor and my PLSS (my backpack) just a few centimetres from the external walls of Node 3, Node 1 and the Lab. Very patiently, with considerable effort I manage to fasten one end of the second cable to the socket. Then, moving blindly backwards, I free myself from the awkward position I’ve had to work in. On the ground, Shane tells me that I’m almost 40 minutes ahead of schedule, and Chris is also running ahead on his tasks”.

At this exact moment, just as I’m thinking about how to uncoil the cable neatly (it is moving around like a thing possessed in the weightlessness), I feel that something is wrong. The unexpected sensation of water at the back of my neck surprises me – and I’m in a place where I’d rather not be surprised. I move my head from side to side, confirming my first impression, and with superhuman effort I force myself to inform Houston of what I can feel, knowing that it could signal the end of this EVA. On the ground, Shane confirms they have received my message and he asks me to await instructions. Chris, who has just finished, is still nearby and he moves towards me to see if he can see anything and identify the source of the water in my helmet”.

At first, we’re both convinced that it must be drinking water from my flask that has leaked out through the straw, or else it’s sweat. But I think the liquid is too cold to be sweat, and more importantly, I can feel it increasing. I can’t see any liquid coming out of the drinking water valve either. When I inform Chris and Shane of this, we immediately receive the order to terminate the sortie. The other possibility, to abort, is used for more serious problems. I’m instructed to go back to the airlock. Together we decide that Chris should secure all the elements that are outside before he retraces his steps to the airlock, i.e. he will first move to the front of the Station. And so we separate”.

As I move back along my route towards the airlock, I become more and more certain that the water is increasing. I feel it covering the sponge on my earphones and I wonder whether I’ll lose audio contact. The water has also almost completely covered the front of my visor, sticking to it and obscuring my vision. I realise that to get over one of the antennae on my route I will have to move my body into a vertical position, also in order for my safety cable to rewind normally. At that moment, as I turn upside-down, two things happen: the Sun sets, and my ability to see – already compromised by the water – completely vanishes, making my eyes useless; but worse than that, the water covers my nose – a really awful sensation that I make worse by my vain attempts to move the water by shaking my head. By now, the upper part of the helmet is full of water and I can’t even be sure that the next time I breathe I will fill my lungs with air and not liquid. 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 can’t 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”.

I try to contact Chris and Shane: I listen as they talk to each other, but their voices are very faint now: I can hardly hear them and they can’t hear me. I’m alone. I frantically think of a plan. It’s vital that I get inside as quickly as possible. I know that if I stay where I am, Chris will come and get me, but how much time do I have? It’s impossible to know. Then I remember my safety cable. Its cable recoil mechanism has a force of around 3lb that will pull me towards the left. It’s not much, but it’s the best idea I have: to follow the cable to the airlock. I force myself to stay calm and, patiently locating the handles by touch, I start to move, all the while thinking about how to eliminate the water if it were to reach my mouth. The only idea I can think of is to open the safety valve by my left ear: if I create controlled depressurisation, I should manage to let out some of the water, at least until it freezes through sublimation, which would stop the flow. But making a hole in my spacesuit really would be a last resort”.

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. One of the last instructions I received was to go back inside immediately, without waiting for Chris. According to protocol, I should have entered the airlock last, because I was first to leave. But neither Chris nor I have any problem in changing the order in which we re-enter. Moving with my eyes closed, I manage to get inside and position myself to wait for Chris’ return. I sense movement behind me; Chris enters the airlock and judging from the vibrations, I know that he’s closing the hatch. At that moment, communication passes to Karen and for some reason, I’m able to hear her fairly well. But I realise that she can’t hear me because she repeats my instructions even though I’ve already replied. I follow Karen’s instructions as best I can, but when repressurization begins I lose all audio. The water is now inside my ears and I’m completely cut off”.

I try to move as little as possible to avoid moving the water inside my helmet. I keep giving information on my health, saying that I’m OK and that repressurization can continue. Now that we are repressurizing, I know that if the water does overwhelm me I can always open the helmet. I’ll probably lose consciousness, but in any case that would be better than drowning inside the helmet. 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!”.

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. They pull me out and as quickly as possible, Karen unfastens my helmet and carefully lifts it over my head. Fyodor and Pavel immediately pass me a towel and I thank them without hearing their words because my ears and nose will still be full of water for a few minutes more”.

ESA blog of Luca Parmitano.

Luca Parmitano is a spationaut

A spationaut or an astronaut could be described as a person who travels beyond Earth’s atmosphere, or a trainee for spaceflight. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, an astronaut is “a person who has been trained for travelling in space”. It is interesting to notice that, without going into details about the different terms used to refer to any person flying in a space object, there are already differences on the conception of the term astronaut. It can either be someone travelling beyond Earth’s atmosphere or someone training to travel beyond Earth’s atmosphere. Considering the fact that the frontier between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space is still subject to debate, what could be the term used to refer to someone flying on suborbital flights? Could we call any human flying on a space object an astronaut? We would therefore need to define, what some national space laws already do, at an international level, what is a space object.

According to which country the person flying/travelling to outer space or training to do so is, terms change. This originality of language, even though we are today witnessing a terminological neutralisation echoing the international relationships’ gradual smoothing, especially between the United States of America and former URSS, illustrates the highly geopolitical, spatiopolitical and historical aspects of space conquest. Let’s not forget that Space Age started during the International Geophysical Year not as any scientific project but as a demonstration of strength by the superpowers of the time, and soon after continued as a military project (US military space’s budget is today still at least twice that of the civilian budget). Depending upon which space object or spacecraft the person will fly/travel on, different names will be used. The United States of America use the term astronaut. Former URSS and today’s Russia use the term cosmonaut. Europe uses the term spationaut. China uses the term taikonaut. India uses the term vyomanaut. Some African artists and politics have used the term afronaut. Some private companies have proposed the term touronaut to define a space tourist. After the flights of Valentina Tereshkova (URSS), Sally Ride (United States of America) or Claudie Haigneré (France), the terms cosmonette, astronette and spationette were proposed. We sometimes also find the words robonaut, moonnaut or lunanaut/lunarnaut, and bionaut (those working in the American Earth system science research facility located in Oracle, Arizona).

The legal status of astronauts

The status of astronauts is enounced and organised both in the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (entered into force on October 10, 1967) and the Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space (entered into force on December 3, 1968).

Article V of the Outer Space Treaty states that “States Parties to the Treaty shall regard astronauts as envoys of mankind in outer space and shall render to them all possible assistance in the event of accident, distress, or emergency landing on the territory of another State Party or on the high seas. When astronauts make such a landing, they shall be safely and promptly returned to the State of registry of their space vehicle. In carrying on activities in outer space and on celestial bodies, the astronauts of one State Party shall render all possible assistance to the astronauts of other States Parties. States Parties to the Treaty shall immediately inform the other States Parties to the Treaty or the Secretary-General of the United Nations of any phenomena they discover in outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, which could constitute a danger to the life or health of astronauts”.

In this article from the Magna Carta of space, different elements appear. The first one is the ethical notion of envoys of mankind in outer space. It means that in outer space, even though there is still a need to define where it starts from, astronauts are seen as representatives of humanity. It doesn’t mean that they will change or lose their nationality but simply that their actions are undertaken in the name of mankind. Given the fact that the Outer Space Treaty (1967) was signed during the Cold War, this notion of mankind is crucial; States and the UN have wanted to sacralise outer space and make it a supranational environment. As the traditional law of the sea requires it, astronauts must be helped, rescued or assisted, regardless of the international situation, their nationality or origin. As we explained earlier, astronauts depend on the State of registry of their space vehicle; let’s imagine that in a case of emergency, as seen in the 2013′ movie Gravity (where astronaut Ryan Stone is brought back on Earth via a Chinese Shenzou), the person would be returned to the State of registry of his/her space vehicle with which he/her travelled beyond Earth’s atmosphere or started his/her mission. Astronauts have also a duty to assist other astronauts. Finally, there is an international duty of supervision by observation according to which “States Parties to the Treaty shall immediately inform the other States Parties to the Treaty or the Secretary-General of the United Nations of any phenomena they discover in outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, which could constitute a danger to the life or health of astronauts”.

The Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space (1968) came to complement the dispositions of the Outer Space Treaty’s Article V and states, Article 1, that “Each Contracting Party which receives information or discovers that the personnel of a spacecraft have suffered accident or are experiencing conditions of distress or have made an emergency or unintended landing in territory under its jurisdiction or on the high seas or in any other place not under the jurisdiction of any State shall immediately: (a) Notify the launching authority or, if it cannot identify and immediately communicate with the launching authority, immediately make a public announcement by all appropriate means of communication at its disposal; (b) Notify the Secretary-General of the United Nations, who should disseminate the information without delay by all appropriate means of communication at his disposal”.

Article 3 enounces that “If information is received or it is discovered that the personnel of a spacecraft have alighted on the high seas or in any other place not under the jurisdiction of any State, those Contracting Parties which are in a position to do so shall, if necessary, extend assistance in search and rescue operations for such personnel to assure their speedy rescue. They shall inform the launching authority and the Secretary-General of the United Nations of the steps they are taking and of their progress”. This article talks about extending assistance, which is an interesting concept. The following articles treat about space objects and technical details.

Article 10 of the Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (1979) enounces that “States Parties shall adopt all practicable measures to safeguard the life and health of persons on the Moon. For this purpose they shall regard any person on the Moon as an astronaut within the meaning of article V of the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies and as part of the personnel of a spacecraft within the meaning of the Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space. States Parties shall offer shelter in their stations, installations, vehicles and other facilities to persons in distress on the Moon”.

Article 11 of the SPACE STATION – Agreement between the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and OTHER GOVERNMENTS signed at Washington January 29, 1998 (on which we will soon come back in a new article), states that “Each Partner has the right to provide qualified personnel to serve on an equitable basis as Space Station crew members. Selections and decisions regarding the flight assignments of a Partner’s crew members shall be made in accordance with procedures provided in the MOUs and implementing arrangements. The Code of Conduct for the Space Station crew will be developed and approved by all the Partners in accordance with the individual Partner’s internal procedures, and in accordance with the MOUs, A Partner must have approved the Code of Conduct before it provides Space Station crew. Each Partner, in exercising its right to provide crew, shall ensure that its crew members observe the Code of Conduct”.