Why Nasa lit a fire inside cargo spacecraft in space

Spacecraft are extraordinarily expensive and not that easy to come by, so why did Nasa recently set fire to one?

It was all part of a set of space fire experiments inside Northrop Grumman's Cygnus cargo spacecraft.

Saffire, Nasa's Spacecraft Fire Safety Demonstration Project, is a series of six experiments that investigate how fires grow and spread in space, especially aboard future spacecraft bound for the Moon and Mars.

The researchers began the experiment in the spacecraft after it completed its primary International Space Station resupply mission and got a safe distance away.

During the Saffire IV experiment, researchers burned a sample of cloth, a blend of 75% cotton and 25% fiberglass. As the flame spreads shortly after ignition, you can see bright specks, which are glowing char on the cloth.

"We want to take what we learned from the first three Saffire experiments and see how flames spread and grow in other spacecraft conditions," says Gary Ruff, Saffire project manager at Nasa.

"We also loaded Saffire IV with more diagnostic equipment to see how effectively we can detect fires, measure combustion products, and evaluate future fire response and clean up technologies."

Saffire's most important goal is to understand how measures can be developed to deal with fire emergencies, when astronauts do not have the option to exit spacecraft or quickly return to Earth.