NASA is starting fires in space...on purpose

Posted at 8:13 AM, Jun 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-15 11:56:37-04

A fire on a spacecraft is usually considered a bad thing, but not this time. 

If you were to light a piece of paper on fire, you'd have a pretty good idea of how the flames would behave here on Earth. But what happens to a fire in microgravity? That's what NASA engineers are hoping to find out.

The experiment is called Saffire, shortened from safe fire.

In an effort to learn more about large scale flame spread in space, engineers devised a plan to start a fire on an unmanned spacecraft.

NASA states in anews releasethat they have conducted fire experiments in space before, but they were always small in scale (think size of an index card) because of the risk to crew.

With Saffire, researchers say they have the opportunity to light a cotton-fiberglass material sample that's about 1 foot by 3 feet. They'll also be able to study the flammability limit of the material. 

Cargo ship Cygnus, which is holding the Saffire enclosure, left the International Space Station Tuesday. Hours later, a fire was remotely ignited.

NASA says it is now burning successfully.

Over the next week, Cygnus will reportedly transmit the data related to the Saffire experiment back to researchers. Cygnus will then meet a destructive end when it re-enters Earth's atmosphere.

According to NASA, the research could help in the development of safer spacecrafts for longer missions in the future. 

More details here.