The only thing better than lighting a fire in space is lighting a fire in space again — and again! On Sunday, June 4, the pyromaniacal hooligans at NASA successfully performed their third Spacecraft Fire Experiment (SAFFIRE) inside an Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft. Lighting up in space — which sounds wildly irresponsible — will actually help scientists prepare astronauts for deep space missions should something go awry.
SAFFIRE-III is a follow-up to NASA’s SAFFIRE I and II, which were completed in June and November of 2016, respectively. The plan for this iteration of the experiment was pretty simple: Cygnus would depart the International Space Station and burn up inside the vessel for about 20 minutes. NASA is currently downlinking the results, which are sure to be glorious.
Besides getting the chance to light a fire in space, which is objectively awesome, SAFFIRE can help NASA scientists understand how fire spreads in microgravity and prepare safety measures accordingly. Fire is especially dangerous during orbital missions because astronauts are typically enclosed in pretty tight quarters and ventilation fans onboard can feed a fire the air it needs to move in any direction.
“As the first chance to actually study a realistically scaled fire, the SAFFIRE experiments have provided valuable insight into fire behaviour inside a confined low-gravity environment,” David Urban, SAFFIRE principal investigator, said in a statement.
This will be the last SAFFIRE mission for some time. According to NASA, the next class of the experiment will fly in 2019.
“SAFFIRE IV-VI will extend the research by including larger, more energetic fires and by testing post-fire cleanup systems,” Urban explained.
Here’s to many more bonfires in the final frontier.