Watch NASA’s Saffire-I Experiment Flame On in Zero Gravity

There's such a fine line between science and space arson.


Last month, NASA lit a fire in space — for science. The space agency took an empty Cygnus spacecraft that had just completed a resupply mission to the International Space Station and intentionally started a large-scale fire in order to observe the behavior and movement of flames in a zero-gravity environment, as part of the Saffire-I experiment. The point was to collect data that might help the space agency develop better plans to keep astronauts safe in the midst of a disaster aboard the space station or other spacecraft.

And the fire, predictably, looked super cool. The video posted by NASA shows a slow moving flame burning across a sample material — a cotton-fiberglass blend — for a few seconds. The entire experiment reportedly lasted eight minutes.

The fire consumed an enclosure that was roughly half a meter wide, 1.3 meters long, and one meter thick. Before Saffire-I, the biggest fire ignited in space was just the size of an index card. After the experiment, the spacecraft itself burned up in Earth’s atmosphere upon re-entry, as planned.

NASA collected plenty of resolution-imagery from Saffire, and is still in the process of analyzing everything. Here’s hoping this isn’t the last fiery experiment to take place in space.

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