Anyone on Earth knows that fire can be a constructive tool as well as a destructive one. However, when you’re aboard a spacecraft orbiting the planet or traveling through space, fire is something you clearly want to avoid. NASA researchers have started a new fire experiment in hopes of learning more about how it behaves in space.
NASA has decided to use the Cygnus cargo spacecraft for their experiment. The spacecraft provided the ISS crew with various supplies and just detached from the space station. Instead of crashing to Earth, NASA will let it remain in orbit until November 27th as it will be used to remotely start a fire inside of it to determine the properties of fire in space inside a spacecraft.
Officially known as Spacecraft Fire Experiment II (Saffire-II) is part of a three-stage program meant to investigate how fire spreads in the microgravity conditions of current spacecraft. The main purpose of the experiment is to obtain data which researchers can use to design safer spacecraft and tools that can easily prevent its spreading.
While the first fire experiment involved burning 1.3 feet wide by 3.3 feet long piece of cotton-fiberglass cloth aboard a different Cygnus spacecraft, the current experiment adds to the existing data by burning different types of materials and observing how the fire behaves. Among the nine small sample materials, NASA included another blend of cotton and fiberglass, fabrics used for astronaut suits, silicone composites, as well as the acrylic glass material known as Nomex, which is used in spacecraft windows.
According to Gary Ruff, the project manager of the Saffire experiments, a fire on board a spacecraft is among the greatest crew safety concerns for NASA as well as the entire space exploration community. Learning more about it, how to better prevent it and stop it is essential.
Back in 1997, aboard the Russian space station Mir a fire broke out when the oxygen-generating container erupted in flames and putting the lives of the crew in danger. The cosmonauts were able to fight the fire with extinguishers. However, simply adding more extinguishers to combat a possible fire isn’t the best solution to this type of problem.
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