Though fire safety on the International Space Station is of utmost importance, the astronauts have the opportunity to actually set very small fires aboard the station. These fires are contained using special hardware inside the Microgravity Science Glovebox facility. They do this to help researchers examine and learn how specific materials burn and then self-extinguish in the space environment.
Burning and Suppression of Solids, or BASS, is a physical science investigation researching the burning and extinction characteristics of a variety of fuels in microgravity. These experiences help identify strategies for putting out accidental fires in space, providing models that may aid in the design of fire detection and suppression systems in space and on Earth.
In an interview, Paul Ferkul, principal investigator for the BASS study, said though researchers have a good idea how things behave in microgravity, they believe in certain conditions, a material in zero gravity actually will be more flammable than it is in normal gravity. "We expect there will be some cases where these materials might actually be observed to burn in zero gravity conditions, but we can’t get them to burn in normal gravity--that would be an exciting finding for us," Ferkul said.
During the interview, Ferkul discusses his background, and the history of previous combustion investigations that have added information to existing models and databases. He also shared the process for BASS, including how the crew ignites the fuel samples. Visit the BASS website to learn more.