“I was out, around 45 minutes or an hour into my second spacewalk, when I felt water on the back of my head. At the time Chris [Cassidy] and I had no idea what was happening. Let me tell you the last thing you want to do is stop the activity that is so important and so expensive and involves so many people as an EVA [Extra-Vehicular Activity].
“As we were waiting for advice [from Houston] I realised it wasn’t going to get better. I felt more water crawling through the back of my head over my communications cap, and at that moment I felt this was going to be a nuisance for sure and it may turn into a bigger problem. That’s when we all decided, with concurrence on the ground, that it was time to go back inside. The ground called for a terminate, which is a soft word for stopping EVA – just put everything back in good condition and go back inside – as opposed to an abort, which is when you leave everything as is and you go back inside and depressurise as fast as you can.
“I had to go back to the airlock one way and Chris had to go back a different way because of the way we were routed. Now the part that became interesting, so to speak, was maybe a minute or two later. I was about halfway to the airlock when the Sun set. When I say the Sun set, you have to imagine an orbital sunset. It’s different than Earth. You have light, now you don’t. When you don’t have light in orbit it’s the absolute absence of light, it’s a black like nothing you can experience on Earth.
“The light coming from the helmet could only illuminate a circle of light about 30 centimetres (one foot) wide. At the same time the water covered my eyes and nose, so I was isolated in the sense that I couldn’t really see well enough to navigate my own way back. I was also upside down and I had to manoeuvre myself around a no-touch zone, which is a zone that is either dangerous or you could damage some important equipment.
“So I was upside down with no light, no eyesight because my eyes were covered, I had water in my nose and I tried to call the ground and Chris, but neither one could hear me due to water or because of the sheer geometry of the station. That’s when I had to make a very quick decision that was either I wait here or try to go back however I could. In a split second I came up with a decision and a plan to move and do whatever I could. I moved, I decided to try to use my own capabilities to go back and about five minutes later I was back at the airlock.
“Chris arrived right away and we went inside. Chris closed the hatch and we repressurised. As soon as Karen [Nyberg] started repressurising I couldn’t hear anything, so the ground was calling me, Chris was calling me, but I couldn’t hear. It was pretty miserable. Water was inside my ears, inside my nose, all over my eyes, so I didn’t want to move. The next thing I knew Chris was squeezing my hand trying to get a response and my response was to squeeze as hard as I could to give him the okay.
“After they repressurised they opened the hatch and I saw a very worried group, Fyodor [Yurchikhin] and Karen, hurrying me out of the airlock to take the helmet off and that was the end of it.”
Image Credit: ESA
You can read our essential guide to living and working aboard a space station in issue 23 of All About Space