“Sud­denly my left eye slammed shut in great pain”

Chris Had­field was tem­po­rar­ily blinded while hold­ing on to the ex­te­rior of the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion

All About Space - - Most Dangerous Missions -

What hap­pened?

Cana­dian Space Agency as­tro­naut Chris Had­field sud­denly felt pain in one of his eyes while he was on his first ever space­walk. Within a short time his other eye was also af­fected, plung­ing him into even greater dark­ness as he worked on the ISS.

What mis­sion were they on?

Had­field was Mis­sion Spe­cial­ist 1 on STS-100, his se­cond-only space­flight, and he was work­ing to de­ploy a UHF an­tenna on the Des­tiny lab. “In April 2001, I be­came the first Cana­dian to walk in space. I per­formed two space­walks. the first one felt com­fort­able and fa­mil­iar; I knew what I was do­ing. I felt con­fi­dent. I knew that no mat­ter what went wrong I could deal with it, but I was blinded dur­ing that space­walk. sud­denly my left eye slammed shut in great pain and I couldn't fig­ure out why it wasn't work­ing. But I kept go­ing and be­cause with­out grav­ity tears don't fall, the ball of what­ever was mixed with my tears on my eye got big­ger and big­ger. Even­tually it be­came so big, the sur­face ten­sion took it across the bridge of my nose like a tiny lit­tle water­fall and went ‘goosh’ into my other eye. Now I was com­pletely blind.

“It turned out we had con­tam­i­na­tion in the suit and it blinded both of my eyes for about half an hour. It was pretty un­ex­pected to be out­side the space­ship, blind and hold­ing on, hop­ing my vi­sion would clear. But rather than panic – which would be a nat­u­ral re­ac­tion – my train­ing took over. By that point we knew everything there is know about the space­suit and had trained un­der­wa­ter thou­sands of times. We don't just prac­tice things go­ing right, we prac­tice things go­ing wrong all the time, and not just un­der­wa­ter, but in vir­tual re­al­ity labs with the hel­met and the gloves so you feel like it's re­al­is­tic. the pan­icky re­ac­tion didn't hap­pen.

“I might ac­tu­ally have been struck blind per­ma­nently. In fact, some of the chem­i­cals in the suit are toxic enough that they could per­ma­nently dam­age the mu­cous mem­brane, so that could have been very bad. But it wasn't. It was some­thing much more mi­nor. Just be­cause some­thing makes you feel vul­ner­a­ble and un­com­fort­able doesn't mean its nec­es­sar­ily dan­ger­ous or risky. the key is to look at the dif­fer­ence be­tween per­ceived dan­ger and ac­tual dan­ger: where is the real risk? What is the real thing that you should be afraid of? Not just a generic fear of bad things hap­pen­ing.

“so I wasn't re­ally afraid be­cause it was just that my eyes were not work­ing. I thought, ‘oK, I can't see, but I can hear, I can talk’, and scott Parazyn­ski, my part­ner on the space­walk, was there with me, and he could float me like a blimp and stuff me into the air­lock if he had to. And ac­tu­ally if I kept on cry­ing for a while then what­ever that gunk was in my eye would start to di­lute and I could start to see again.

“so I was more wor­ried that we weren't go­ing to get the space­walk done be­cause time is re­ally tight. It's like when you get a bug in your eye or if you get sham­poo in your eyes so that you can't see in the shower. You're not re­ally afraid, just sort of ir­ri­tated. for­tu­nately it even­tually cleared and I could see again, and so we got everything done. When I came back inside, Jef­frey s. Ashby got some cot­ton bat­ting and took the crusty stuff around my eyes.

“It turned out it was just the anti-fog, sort of a mix­ture of oil and soap that is used to pol­ish the space­suit vi­sor, that got into my eye. Now we use John­son's No More tears, which we prob­a­bly should have been us­ing right from the very be­gin­ning. I went on to per­form a se­cond space­walk and I spent a to­tal of 14 hours 50 min­utes out­side, trav­el­ling ten-times around the world dur­ing that time.”

Luck­ily this bub­ble was not about to cause Had­field any trou­ble

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