Monday, June 13, 2016

NASA - Space Station, Fighting Fire With Fire

"NASA scientists try to stop space fires — by setting them" PBS NewsHour 6/8/2016


SUMMARY:  Confined spaces, low gravity and high concentrations of oxygen mean any unexpected fire on a space station could well be a death sentence, especially since fire extinguishers aren’t very effective away from Earth.  So NASA scientists are trying to develop a new kind of firefighting tool by starting their own space fires and studying how they unfold.  Science correspondent Miles O’Brien reports.

JOHN GRUNSFELD, NASA:  We are crossing an international boundary.  We are on the U.S. side now, and now we are on the Russian Mir space station.

MILES O’BRIEN (NewsHour):  By 1997, the Russian space station Mir was 11 years old and showing its age.  During the fifth shuttle mission to the station, astronaut John Grunsfeld documented the warren of modules brimming with a disorienting maze of cables, hoses and trash.

JOHN GRUNSFELD:  I feel like I am exploring a cave.

MILES O’BRIEN:  Can you imagine being in a fire here?

U.S. astronaut Jerry Linenger lived that nightmare on February 23, 1997 (see "Fire! How the Mir Incident Changed Space Station Safety").

JERRY LINENGER, Former NASA Astronaut:  The fire was basically in this region here with the flames shooting across this way.

MILES O’BRIEN:  The source was a canister filled with chemicals designed to generate oxygen.

JERRY LINENGER:  You have got a two- or three-foot flame, blowtorch-like in intensity, sparks flying off the end of it.  It looks like a hundred sparklers all at once.

MILES O’BRIEN:  Linenger and his Russian crewmates donned masks and frantically fought the fire.

JERRY LINENGER:  The fire took about 14 minutes total, and 14 minutes is a long time with a roaring fire and a blackout from the smoke, and no place to go.  And if it were any bigger, I’m pretty darn sure we would have lost that spacecraft.

MILES O’BRIEN:  For NASA scientists and engineers, it was a big wakeup call.

GARY RUFF, NASA:  One of the things that you learn is, we really didn’t have a way to put that fire out.

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