Space: What a romantic thought. Floating out in space. Peace, silence, the earth glowing below you and only a small layer of astronaut suit separating you from the deadly vacuum of space. What a nightmare. As much as I love space, the thought of floating in space in a spacesuit immediately makes me sick. After all, spacewalks are among the most dangerous tasks of all. And a couple of them, of course, have almost turned out fatal.
- Warum werden im Weltraum Spacewalks gemacht?
- Platz 1 Alexey Leonov
- Platz 2 Eugene Cernan
- Platz 3: Luca Parmitano
Spacewalk: Why do the astronauts have to get out of it at all?
I mean, it’s bad enough sitting in the rocket, knowing that tons of explosives are about to be set off below me. The International Space Station (ISS) is a research station where experiments can be conducted in zero gravity.
And some of these experiments are outside the station. For example, to measure cosmic rays. In addition, the job of the astronauts is not only to supervise experiments, but also to maintain the ISS.
That means if something has to be repaired or something has to be cleaned. Then they have to do it, and who else is going to do it?
There have been over 450 spacewalks so far and of course the very first one ended almost fatally. So we come to our third place of the almost deadly spacewalks.
#1 Alexey Leonov
Alexey Leonov was a Soviet cosmonaut. And a very special one because he was the first person ever to perform a spacewalk. It’s clear that the first time a little bit more can go wrong. But somebody has to make the beginning.
On 18 March 1965 dialogue he flew for it into the universe. The goal: to get into orbit around the Earth, then get out of the spaceship and float freely in space. Only connected by a five meter long safety line.
To illustrate once again that I am not exaggerating here with ooh dangerous, dangerous. The spaceship with the nigel-nail-new airlock was tested before 100 times briefly unmanned. At the beginning everything super. Spaceship reaches the earth orbit. An airlock unfolded fantastically. But then there was unfortunately a small radio error and the brake rockets began to ignite.
The thing started to rotate really wild in the earth orbit and then the self-destruct mode was triggered and the thing exploded in space. Stupid.
And yet, a month later, Alexei and his colleague flew into space on one of those spaceships. Well, I mean, the airlock worked. Because that was the most important thing.
The launch and the way into space went well and then it was time for the exit into space. This is how the photo of the first human ever to leave a space station looked at the time. Up to then it looked quite relaxed. Leonov once wrote in an article about his little adventure that he felt like a seagull stretching its wings high above the earth and hovering.
Cute as a seagull! For 12 minutes, our little Soviet seagull flew out there in space. Until he noticed something. His hands were somehow no longer properly inside his glove. And his feet were also not properly in his shoes. So more like half in his pants.
His suit had started to expand. The unpleasant thing about empty space is that it is empty. There is nothing up there. There is no air around you is vacuum. And the air is not only very practical if you want to breathe, but the air around us also exerts a pressure on us. The atmospheric pressure. And when this pressure is gone, things filled with air can expand. Because they are no longer compressed from the outside.
In the case of Leonov exactly this happened, because his spacesuit was filled with air. And this air started to push his spacesuit apart outside in the vacuum. Leonov then tried to get to the airlock as quickly as possible. But then the nightmare became really hard.
He did not fit through the airlock now. Realizing at that moment: Okay, I’m out in space. I can only get back home to earth if I go through this airlock. And I don’t fit through this airlock. And I have about 40 minutes of oxygen left and I can’t get out of my space suit.
Yeah what is he supposed to do? Should he let the air out of his spacesuit? Yes
that’s exactly what he did. Leonov’s only solution was to let air out of his suit so that he would get smaller again. So the only air he has up there to breathe.
He had a small valve on his suit and so he could let out a little bit of air again and again until the suit was small enough again to return through the airlock into the capsule. With heart palpitations, completely sweaty but everything went well and mission completed.
#2 Eugene Cernan
Second place of the near-fatal spacewalk. NASA astronaut Eugen was supposed to be the third person to do a spacewalk. Unfortunately, he also walked through hell in the process.
Eugene Cernan was actually signed up as an alternate for this mission. The two boys, here in front, they were originally chosen for this spacewalk mission. But unfortunately, they crashed in a jet accident on the way to the astronaut training center and did not survive.
So Eugene Cernan and his colleague Tom Stafford were the new chosen ones. By the way, Eugene really looks like he’s really up for this job in every photo. But never mind! Off into space with you. The mission was not that Eugene just goes out into space, originally it was planned that they dock to a space satellite and then test among other things a newly developed space backpack with jet propulsion the AMU “Astronaut Maneuvering Unit”. The AMU was a bit like the beta version of Ironman. A jet backpack with which one should be able to move freely through space. Unfortunately, this jet backpack was mounted outside the spacecraft.
So the plan was for Eugene to get out of the spaceship, hang on to the handles on the spaceship, put on the jet backpack, and then do all the other tasks Ironman style. Originally, the idea was to be able to just float really freely through space with this jet backpack. But then NASA thought yes let times rather a safety line still at the backpack dran make. We soon have no more astronauts left.
On June 3, 1966, the two flew into space and the first task and docking maneuver was immediately thrown out when the two looked out the window. This is how the satellite was supposed to look and how it would look in space. The white one here in front should actually be undocked when entering space and Tom Stafford also described it quite sweetly “It looks like an angry alligator spinning.”
But the spacewalk was still on the agenda, of course. Inside the space capsule, the air pressure was released. The hatch above their heads was opened, and by then Eugene realized that the spacesuit he was wearing was rock hard in the vacuum. Every movement in his suit was incredibly tough. It felt to him as if he was trapped in a rusty knight’s armor and alone in space.
It felt to him as if he was trapped in a rusted knight’s armor and to get out of the space capsule alone and do the first locomotion exercises was so exhausting.
Eugene was already exhausted, but somehow he still tried to get around the capsule as best he could and get to that damn AMU. He made it to the AMU only to find that he felt like he had run three marathons and it was just impossible for him to put on the AMU.
In the meantime, the space capsule had also arrived on the night side of the Earth. That means it was completely dark and he was so overheated that his visor in the front was completely fogged up. So he couldn’t see anything anymore and he got really panic, because he was completely disoriented. Eugene only managed to clear a small area on his visor with the tip of his nose. Complete nightmare!
And also Stafford noticed in the space capsule that Eugene was at the end of his strength and he was not even in this Ironman thing. There was even the question if Eugene would make it back to the capsule at all or if he would have to be left behind in space. Stefan gave him the command to abort the mission immediately and after two hours of space walk through hell Eugene made it back into the space capsule with complete overheating and ultra severe pain.
After landing, medics found that Eugene had sweated out several gallons of water. His space boots alone each had half a liter of water in them. And after his hellish space walk, space walk training was led. There the astronauts have to practice under water all the procedures and the locomotion once. It’s better that way, before your life is at stake for the first time 400 kilometers above the earth.
#3: Luca Parmitano
Luca Parmitano has certainly survived the most absurd death scenario ever in space. He almost drowned during a space walk. Luca was outside with his colleague Chris Cassidy, among other things, to lay some cables at the station, when he suddenly noticed that a liquid was moving along his head. Chris looked at him and thought
at first maybe it was sweat but then realized that was way too much fluid for sweat. The two were connected to Mission Control who also quickly responded and asked, “Luca do you feel it’s getting more fluid?” And Luca: “Yes it is getting more liquid.”
Almost a liter and a half of fluid came in his helmet and no one knew why. Luca of course can’t get his hands through his helmet to his face to somehow wipe the water away from his nose and eyes. Which I imagine is pretty annoying in general when I can’t scratch my nose for 8 hours. But in that case, complete nightmare. Maybe it is clear that one and a half liters of water are not enough to fill up a whole astronaut helmet but in weightlessness it is a bit different.
Many things behave in weightlessness completely different than down here on earth. That’s why you can do experiments on the space station that are absolutely not possible down here. And water has a property that we can only observe to a limited extent here on Earth. It sticks and climbs along solid surfaces.
This is called adhesion force. Because of this adhesion force, we have to dry our hands after washing them, for example. Because the water is everywhere on our hand. When a drop of water becomes too heavy, it actually drips down. But not in weightlessness.
Chris Hadfield has demonstrated this in this video once nicely, by wringing out a wet towel on the space station. The water doesn’t just drip down, but gets all over his hands and arms. Because it is weightless.
That’s exactly what the water was doing when it got into Luca’s helmet, it was climbing along his face and he had no idea where it was coming from or if it could even stop. The first idea was that his hydration bag that was integrated in his helmet might have a leak. That’s why Luca drank the entire hydration bag and still water can continue to flow. From that point on it was clear that the mission had to be aborted immediately. Otherwise Luca drowns in his own helmet. The bad thing was not only that he could breathe worse, but also that he could no longer see anything.
The water was on his eyes and completely limited his vision. And the ISS had meanwhile arrived on the night side of the earth. So he couldn’t see anything anymore and was completely disoriented. He somehow tries to find his way back to the airlock from memory. So he shimmies blindly along the space station in the direction of the airlock. Arrived in the airlock the nightmare is still not over. Because he has to wait in his suit in the airlock until the air pressure is adjusted again.
His whole crew is standing inside the space station at the airlock and waits for them to finally get Luca into the station to free him from this suit. And what can Luca do? Nothing! He can only wait and holds his breath until the airlock door finally opens. They pull him into the station and free him from his suit at the last second. Everything went well, nerves held, everything done right. Luke’s comment: “I experienced what it’s like to be a goldfish in a goldfish bowl, from the goldfish’s point of view.” Yes, that’s one way to look at it.
But what of course was still not clear where did all this water come from? The astronaut suit consists of several layers that are supposed to protect the astronauts from space. Of course, these layers are also extremely well insulated, because there are very strong temperature differences out there. But humans naturally give off heat themselves. That’s why one layer of the astronaut suit has a cooling system.
Many small tubes go through the fabric and water flows through them to regulate the body heat of the astronaut. This was not the case with Eugene Cernan. He didn’t have something like that in his suit and that’s why he overheated so badly, because the heat he gave off stayed in the suit. Luca’s problem lay precisely in this cooling system.
Some pump in the cooling system was clogged and the water collected at that point and then somehow flowed into the air circuit. So instead of air, all of a sudden water was coming through that spot. If Luca had not come back to the station, it could have ended very badly. But drowning in space would have been a very unique death. This shows again that as an astronaut you really have to expect everything. Sometimes also with such completely absurd dangers like drowning in space. Space Walk are always good for a surprise!