NASA has suspended all spacewalks while it resolves an alarming issue with spacesuits aboard the International Space Station.
The agency said on Tuesday that the helmets worn by the astronauts had begun to fill with water several times over the past few months.
It put personnel in life-threatening scenarios as they hunkered down outside the station 250 miles above Earth.
According to CBS, NASA is investigating what led to excessive water buildup in an astronaut’s helmet during a field trip in March.
Officials told reporters that spacesuits — “extra-vehicular mobility units,” or EMUs — remain available for emergencies.
“Until we better understand what the causal factors may have been during the last EVA with our EMU, we are not going for the nominal [extra-vehicular activity]”, said Dana Weigel of NASA.
“So we won’t do a planned EVA until we’ve had a chance to really address and rule out the major failure modes in the system.”
A number of astronauts have faced the terrifying ordeal of a water-filled helmet over the years.
In 2013, a spacewalk had to be aborted after European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano nearly drowned.
A NASA report detailing the incident said Parmitano was faced with “water covering his eyes, nose and ears”.
Since then, NASA has installed small sponges in its EMU helmets to absorb any excess moisture.
While the Parmitano incident has yet to be repeated, German astronaut Matthias Maurer’s helmet filled with water during a spacewalk in March.
“About a circle eight to 10 inches in diameter, a thin film of water on the helmet,” NASA astronaut Kayla Barron, who discovered the buildup, reported at the time.
“And there’s water in his vent on the back of his neckband.”
Maurer’s suit will return to Earth on a SpaceX freighter due back in July.
Investigators will then examine the suit to determine the cause of the problem. Until then, all future spacewalks are on hold.
Fortunately, officials “have found nothing unusual” so far, according to Weigel.
“We are looking for any obvious signs of contamination or fouling or anything else that may have entered our system.”
“We don’t see it yet,” she added.
This story originally appeared on The Sun and has been reproduced here with permission.