The 'Breaking News!!!' ISS Emergency That Wasn't

(Image by WikiImages from Pixabay.)

I hate it when that happens. 

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Just a few minutes ago — it's 8:11 PM Eastern Time as I'm writing — there was suddenly a lot of excitement as NASA's live feed from the ISS started displaying a major emergency—that the ISS commander had suffered a "hypobaric exposure" with "multiple DCS events." Translated from the NASA-ese, a "hypobaric exposure" means someone — "Commander" — had been exposed to dangerously low pressure, and there had been multiple decompression sickness (DCS) issues. The audio continued with a flight surgeon who was stuck in traffic, some therapeutic recommendations, and the chilling statement that there wasn't much else they could do and that the commander's condition was "tenuous."

Ian Servin transcribed much of the discussion

Some of the exciting dialogue:

So if we could get a commander back in his suit, get it sealed and step into procedure 5.180 for suited hyperbaric treatment, section three for oxygen post-splashdown, that would be my recommendation. How copy? ...

Well, I think at this point, because the hypobaric exposure is the big problem, and given his exam, I am concerned that there are some severe DCS hits, and so I would recommend trying to get him in the suit as soon as possible, and giving oxygen as best as able during that process, but the best thing would be to get him in the suit ASAP. ...

While we don't have other flight surgeons on call, while I am stuck in traffic, I can reach out to see if there's anyone who can get there sooner than one hour. That being said, there really isn't anything we could do in person that we can't do over the phone at this point. Unfortunately, the prognosis for Commander is relatively tenuous, I'll say, at this point, to keep it generic. ..

One thing, I don't know if you got this message before, but I did find a, through Dan, I did find a hospital in Spain that has critical care facilities and hyperbaric treatment facilities. Would you like me to give you that hospital and their phone number again?

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As you can imagine, there was a lot of general consternation. The TL;DR was that the commander had been exposed to a vacuum and was seriously injured — his condition was "tenuous." They discussed hospitals in Spain with facilities for treating patients with hyperbaric oxygen, and Spain was at least a plausible location that could be reached by an emergency de-orbit.

Only one thing: it was a drill. They were running a drill and the audio got accidentally fed into the live feed.


There is no emergency situation going on aboard the International Space Station. At approximately 5:28 p.m. CDT, audio was aired on the NASA livestream from a simulation audio channel on the ground indicating a crew member was experiencing effects related to decompression sickness (DCS). This audio was inadvertently misrouted from an ongoing simulation where crew members and ground teams train for various scenarios in space and is not related to a real emergency. The International Space Station crew members were in their sleep period at the time. All remain healthy and safe, and tomorrow’s spacewalk will start at 8 a.m. EDT as planned.
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This is known, technically, as an "oopsie." Someone flipped the wrong switch, clicked the wrong button, and we got a ringside seat on how NASA would react if something like this did happen.

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