NASA Is Starting a Fire in Space. For Science!

The space agency is prepping for an experiment involving a full-scale fire aboard an empty vessel.

Public Domain

On March 22, NASA will launch a Cygnus spacecraft to the International Space Station to send much-needed supplies to the crew in orbit. But after the astronauts move the cargo to the ISS and Cygnus disembarks, the real fun begins.

That’s when NASA will conduct the first-ever experiment involving fire in space, which will go down aboard the empty Cygnus vehicle.

Short for Spacecraft Fire Experiment, Saffire-1 involves lighting a large-scale fire in zero-gravity, and observing the simulated disaster using video cameras on board.

“It’s a big deal,” Dan Tani, former astronaut and the senior director of mission and cargo operations for Orbital ATK (the company that makes and operates the Cygnus spacecraft) told Florida Today.

A fire aboard a spacecraft has never happened before — but it remains a serious concern for NASA and other space agencies around the world. Creating a fire on purpose using an expendable object is a unique opportunity to study how disaster would unfold in zero gravity or microgravity. We have almost no basis in the realm of space fires.

Saffire-1 could give NASA some insight as to how the space agency can limit the spread of a fire onboard a spacecraft and — more importantly — protect astronauts or get them to safety.

In addition, NASA thinks the experiment may also have some practical implications down here on Earth. “Studying fire in small, sealed environments, such as the Cygnus cargo supply vehicle, benefits fire safety and prevention efforts on Earth, including inside mines, airplanes or submarines,” NASA said in its summary of the experiment.

We can’t wait to see the footage later this month.

Related Tags