Scientists light fires in space

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

Scientists from NASA’s Glenn Research Center just performed a really “HOT” experiment (see what I did there).

The Saffire-I Experiment, a convenient play on words for “Safe Fire,” is a controlled fire ignited in a spacecraft, to learn more about how fire acts in space. Scientists rigged together a box, roughly the size of a large air conditioner, containing a small sheet of cotton-fiberglass material (1 meter long by 0.4 meters wide) which was then set on fire. While the fire was contained to the box, scientists were able to observe the progress of the fire as it burned up the sheet. The duration of the burn lasted around 8 minutes, but in that time, reached temperatures of 1,500°F.

Up until Saffire-I, the experiment that holds the record for largest controlled burn in space was with a material around the size of a credit card. Now, Saffire-I holds the record for the largest fire started in a spacecraft. Such a small experiment provides a large amount of useful information to scientists. It is incredibly dangerous to perform an experiment such as this without careful planning and control. A small mistake could mean a fire that could become out of control, and could incinerate the entire spacecraft. For reasons such as this, experiments like Saffire-I cannot be done on a human-occupied spacecraft.

The spacecraft this experiment was performed on was the Cygnus, a resupply craft which has departed from the International Space Station with the intent to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere during reentry.

Cygnus provided a unique opportunity to perform the experiment on a spacecraft that was being discarded anyway, with re-entry planned for Wednesday, June 22 (IFL Science).”

The full findings of the Saffire-I experiment have yet to be released, but expected results are positive. There are 2 more Saffire experiments being planned at this time.

While you wait, check out this unrealistic yet impressive video clip of fire burning through a Space Craft from the movie, Gravity.

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