Playing with fire is considered dangerous, especially aboard a laboratory orbiting 250 miles over Earth. However, NASA International Space Station astronauts have now deliberately started a series of fires in research designed to study the behaviour of fire in zero gravity.
The experiment, called Confined Combustion, intends to improve fire safety on the International Space Station and future manned missions to the Moon.
The research will help predict how fires might spread in low gravity.
Dr Paul Ferkul, of the Universities Space Research Association, who is working on the project, said: “That is the immediate and most practical goal since NASA can use the knowledge to improve material selection and fire safety strategies.”
Gravity normally pulls colder denser air to the base of the flame, displacing hot air, which rises.
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And according to the lead scientist, the NASA researchers enjoyed the process.
Dr Ferkul said: “They really enjoy the experiments because they’re so hands on.
“We get to talk to the astronauts while they’re doing it.”
Previous work by the same team has revealed how, contrary to expectations, some materials would be more flammable on the Moon due to the lower buoyancy.
This is because for some materials, the convection flow is fast enough to extinguish the flame on Earth.