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Fire's Weird Behavior in Space

In the microgravity environment of outer space, flames burn very differently than they do on Earth. Understanding those differences not only helps researchers grasp the properties of combustion and burning, but is also crucial for outer-space missions. Testing how materials ignite and smolder in microgravity is essential for choosing everything from windowpanes to wire insulation for the Space Station and potentially longer-term space missions to Mars or other destinations. A recent project on the Space Station, called BASS II (for Burning and Suppression of Solids), used the assistance of astronauts on the station to conduct controlled, contained experiments on a variety of flammable materials. Sandra L. Olson, the principal investigator of the mission at NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, provided imagery of some of the results. Olson also co-authored a recent feature in American Scientist on a particular type of insidious slow-growing flame in microgravity called flamelets. She and her coauthors also participated in an American Scientist hangout on the research.

Videos and images courtesy of Sandra L. Olson and NASA.

(Use the button on the right to enter 'full screen mode' to view the images and captions at the same time.)

See the associated blog for more, including video.

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