NASA’s About To Do The Most Dangerous Thing You Can Do In Space

The logo for Saffire, NASA's Spacecraft Fire Experiment. Image: NASA

Intentionally lighting a fire onboard a spacecraft might seem like a bad idea. But in order to understand how fire behaves on a spacecraft, and in order to reduce the risk from fire to crew members and equipment, NASA engineers are doing just that. The test, dubbed Spacecraft Fire Experiment, or Saffire, will be conducted on the Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo vehicle, on March 22nd.The fire will be ignited remotely inside a 3ft. x 3ft. x 5ft. container inside Cygnus, once the craft has delivered its supplies to the ISS and is returning to Earth. Until now, the only combustion tests performed have been small fires aboard the ISS, in microgravity conditions. The containers at the heart of the Saffire experiments will allow the team of engineers conducting the tests to burn larger materials, and get a better understanding of how a larger fire will behave.The tests will be performed prior to the destruction of Cygnus as it re-enters Earth’s atmosphere. Data and images from the fire will be transmitted to the researchers at the Glenn Research Center, home of the Saffire experiment, and shared with international partners.Jason Crusan is NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems director, and he had this to say about the experiment: “NASA’s objective is to reduce the risk of long-duration exploration missions, and a spacecraft fire is one of the biggest concerns for NASA and the international space exploration community.”A fire aboard a deep space mission could be disastrous, with no possibility of escape or rescue for crew members. Inside a spacecraft, there’s no way for the heat and pressure generated by a fire to escape. If the fire generates any toxic by-products, they can’t escape either, which creates a very dangerous situation.The Soviet space station MIR suffered a fire in 1997. The fire —> Read More