NASA is Done Setting Fires Inside its Doomed Cargo Spacecraft

NASA's Saffire program is a series of experiments designed to understand how fire behaves in a spacecraft. In this image, a sample of fabric burns inside an uncrewed Cygnus cargo craft during a previous Spacecraft Fire Safety Experiment investigation, Saffire-IV. Image Credit: NASA

Fire on a spacecraft can be catastrophic. It can spread quickly in a confined space, and for trapped astronauts, there may be no escape. It’s fading in time now, but Apollo 1, which was to be the first crewed Apollo mission, never got off the ground because of a fire that killed the crew. There’ve been other dangerous spacecraft fires too, like the one onboard the Russian Mir space station in 1997.

In an effort to understand how fire behaves in spacecraft, NASA began its Saffire (Spacecraft Fire Safety Experiment) in 2016. Saffire was an eight-year, six-mission effort to study how fire behaves in space. The final Saffire test was completed on January 9th.

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There’s A Fire in Greenland… Again. It’s 10 Degrees Hotter Than Normal

This fire in Greenland is near Sisimiut, in Western Greenland. It was likely caused by a hiker. Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

As global warming ramps up, expect to see Greenland in the news a lot. That’s because its ice sheet is under threat of melting. But that’s not the only reason. The other reason is fire.

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Weekly Space Hangout – June 17, 2016: LIGO Team

Host: Fraser Cain (@fcain)

Special Guest: LIGO Team Members:Kai Staats and Michael Landry
Kai Staats is a filmmaker, lecturer and writer working in science outreach. He is currently completing his MSc thesis for his research in machine learning applied to radio astronomy at the University of Cape Town and the Square Kilometer Array, South Africa. Staats was for ten years CEO of a Linux OS and HPC solutions provider whose systems were used to process images at NASA JPL, conduct sonar imaging on-board Navy submarines, and conduct bioinformatics research at DoE labs. In 2012 Staats engaged his passion for storytelling through film. His work includes sci-fi, human interest, wildlife conservation, and science outreach and education. “LIGO Detection” marks Staats’ 3rd film for the gravitational wave observatory that in February announced detection of merging black holes.

Mike Landry is Detection Lead Scientist at LIGO Hanford Observatory (LHO), Washington State. He began working on LIGO in 2000 as a Caltech postdoc at LHO, and has remained there since. Mike has worked on a variety of aspects of the experiment, including commissioning, calibration, and searches for gravitational waves from spinning neutron stars. From 2010 to 2015, he led the installation of Advanced LIGO at Hanford. Prior to working on LIGO, he received his Ph.D. in particle and nuclear physics from the University of Manitoba, for studies in strange hadronic physics at the Brookhaven National Laboratory’s AGS accelerator.

Paul M. Sutter ( / @PaulMattSutter)
Morgan Rehnberg ( / @MorganRehnberg)
Kimberly Cartier (@AstroKimCartier )

Their stories this week:
The discovery of a habitable zone “Tatooine” planet

Experimenting with igniting fires in space

1/3 of the world (and 80% of Americans) can’t see the Milky Way

Eight space telescopes are renewed by NASA

We’ve had an abundance of news stories for the past few months, and not enough time to get to them all. So we are now using a tool called Trello to submit and vote on stories we would like to see covered each week, and then Fraser will be selecting the stories from there. Here is the link to the Trello WSH page (, which you can see without logging in. If you’d like to vote, just create a login and help us decide what to cover!

We record the Weekly Space Hangout every Friday at 12:00 pm Pacific / 3:00 pm Eastern. You can watch us live on Google+, Universe Today, or the Universe Today YouTube page.

You can also join in the discussion between episodes over at our Weekly Space Hangout Crew group in G+!

As the World Burns: Satellites Watch Fires Around the World

NASA put out this video last week and we missed covering it, but this is a very interesting little video that takes you on a narrated global tour of tens of millions of fires detected from space between July 2002 and July 2011. Yes, that’s right, tens of millions of fires on Earth, and these aren’t tiny little campfires — they are big enough to be seen from space. The video was created from new satellite data visualizations, and is combined with satellite views of vegetation and snow cover to show how fires relate to seasonal changes. The research helps scientists understand how fire affects our environment on local, regional and global scales.
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Fires in the Sky, Fires on the Ground

The aurora australis seen from the ISS on September 17, 2011. Credit: NASA.



With all of the activity that’s been occurring on the Sun recently, the aurorae have been exceptionally bright and have created quite a show to viewers – both on Earth as well as above it!

The image above was taken over the southern Indian Ocean by astronauts aboard the International Space Station. The southern lights – a.k.a. aurora australis – glow bright green and red in the upper layers of the atmosphere, creating a dazzling aerial display. (Click here to watch a movie of this.)

Shortly after, fires can be seen on the ground as the ISS passes over Australia:

Wildfires in Australia seen from orbit. Credit: NASA.

From NASA’s Earth Observatory website:

Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) used a digital camera to capture several hundred photographs of the aurora australis, or “southern lights,” while passing over the Indian Ocean on September 17, 2011. You can see the flowing ribbons and rays below as the ISS passed from south of Madagascar to just north of Australia between 17:22 and 17:45 Universal Time. Solar panels and other sections of the ISS fill some of the upper right side of the photograph.

Auroras are a spectacular sign that our planet is electrically and magnetically connected to the Sun. These light shows are provoked by energy from the Sun and fueled by electrically charged particles trapped in Earth’s magnetic field, or magnetosphere. In this case, the space around Earth was stirred up by an explosion of hot, ionized gas from the Sun — a coronal mass ejection — that left the Sun on September 14, 2011.

In the second image above, and in the last frames of the movie, light from the ground replaces the light show in the sky. Wildfires and perhaps some intentionally set agricultural fires burn on the continent of Australia,with smoke plumes faintly visible in the night sky. A gold and green halo of atmospheric airglow hangs above the horizon in the distance.


Airglow is created by particles in the upper atmosphere that have been charged by UV light from the Sun during the day releasing the energy at night as greenish-yellow visible light.

Fires on the ground, fires in the sky… the stars blazing all around, the Sun in its full glory and a never-ending view of our entire planet… what an incredible place the ISS must be to work in! Absolutely amazing!

And the skies of night were alive with light, with a throbbing, thrilling flame; Amber and rose and violet, opal and gold it came. It swept the sky like a giant scythe, it quivered back to a wedge; Argently bright, it cleft the night with a wavy golden edge.

— “The Ballad of the Northern Lights”, Robert Service

Read more on the NASA Earth Observatory.