Houston Matters

How An Astronaut Almost Drowned In Space

A new documentary called EVA 23 details how a 2013 spacewalk outside the International Space Station nearly turned tragic.

An Astronaut on a Spacewalk
An astronaut on a spacewalk outside the International Space Station.

EVA 23 Poster

When you think about the dangers of a spacewalk, accidentally floating away from your ship or running out of air might come to mind — but not drowning.

But that’s what almost happened to an astronaut on a spacewalk in 2013.

A new documentary details what went wrong. It’s called EVA 23. EVA stands for extravehicular activity, NASA lingo for a spacewalk.

It was July 2013, and NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano were doing some pretty routine work outside the International Space Station.

But things took a turn when Parmitano experienced something unusual: he felt water on the back of his neck.

The incident wasn’t cause for panic. Perhaps the pouch containing his drinking water had leaked as they believed it had on a previous spacewalk.

But, as time passed, more water began filling Parmitano’s helmet to the point where his eyes and nose were covered — only his mouth remained unobstructed so he could breathe.

Luca Parmitano with Water On His Head
Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano demonstrates how water behaves in zero gravity.

Eventually the decision was made to end the EVA and return the station. But as he worked his way back in the darkness of space the water began moving as he moved, creating the fear he wouldn’t get back to the airlock before his helmet was completely filled.

NASA Astronaut Chris Cassidy
NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy describes the problem that occurred with his colleague’s spacesuit, as documented in the film EVA 23.

The story of what went wrong and how Parmitano survived with the help of Cassidy and his ISS crew mates makes for a harrowing reminder of the inherent dangers of space exploration.

In the audio above, the film’s directors Phil Sexton and Austin Havican of the Clear Lake-based production company Space City Films tell Houston Matters producer Michael Hagerty the story of EVA 23.

The documentary is screening now at both the Kennedy Space Center and Space Center Houston.

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Michael Hagerty

Senior Producer, Houston Matters

Michael Hagerty is the senior producer for Houston Matters. He's spent more than 20 years in public radio and television and dabbled in minor league baseball, spending four seasons as the public address announcer for the Reno Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

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