We’ve seen enough scary scenes in movies to know that fire aboard a spacecraft looks like a bad idea. But now NASA is developing an experiment in which it will intentionally start a fire aboard a vessel to better understand how fire behaves in space.
The Spacecraft Fire Experiment, or Saffire, will be conducted aboard a Cygnus cargo vehicle that is headed for the International Space Station on Tuesday, according to a NASA news release.
Cygnus will dock with ISS and its supplies will be offloaded by the crew of astronauts. Saffire will remain onboard the supply vessel, along with a new load of ISS trash. Cygnus will then depart for Earth and once it’s a safe distance from the station, NASA engineers in Dulles, Va., will remotely activate the experimental blaze.
The experiment is housed in a 3-foot wide, 3-foot high, 5-foot long module aboard Cygnus and is equipped to characterize and document the burning of large materials in a microgravity environment.
— NASA (@NASA) March 16, 2016
“Gaining a better understanding of how fire behaves in space will help further NASA’s efforts in developing better materials and technologies to reduce crew risk and increase space flight safety,” said Gary A. Ruff, NASA’s Spacecraft Fire Safety Demonstration project manager.
Ruff calls the experiment the “biggest man-made fire ever in space” and the experiments are critical as NASA continues to send astronauts to the space station and continues the path toward a human mission to Mars.
Images and data captured from inside Saffire will be transmitted to ground centers around the globe and transferred to NASA scientists and engineers at the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.
Cygnus will then catch fire in a far more destructive way as it burns up while re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere.