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Smokey Bear Goes to Space
Smokey Bear stuffed toy

This Smokey Bear plush toy accompanied Flight Engineer Joe Acaba and his Soyuz crewmates on the trip to the International Space Station. Credit: U.S. Forest Service

The Burning and Suppression of Solids (BASS) experiment

Zero-g facility test burning a two-cm diameter Polymethylmethacrylate sphere in 30-cm/s airflow. Photo credit: NASA
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Coral reefs in the Tuamotu Islands in the South Pacific

Coral reefs in the Tuamotu Islands in the South Pacific. Photo credit: NASA
› Read more about EarthKam

Naples, Italy

Naples, Italy, photographed using Nightpod. Photo credit: ESA/NASA
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ForWarn map

ForWarn maps normal forest conditions as blue and change from normal as shades that range from green to red. This map shows that the greater part of Texas and Oklahoma were experiencing severe forest stress in late September 2011 from the effects of drought and wildfire. Photo credit: NASA
› Read more about U.S. Forest Service ForWarn Early Warning System

L3 vehicle demonstrates fire suppression technology

HMA’s fire suppression technology is ideal for a host of firefighting applications, including combating wildfires in areas unreachable by standard fire trucks. Here, HMA’s L3 (light, lean, and lethal) vehicle demonstrates these capabilities. Photo credit: NASA
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Smokey Bear has gone where no bear has gone before. On May 15, 2012, Smokey traveled aboard the Soyuz spacecraft with astronaut Joe Acaba and cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin to the International Space Station.

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But Smokey Bear was not along just for the ride. As a recognized symbol for wildfire prevention, his presence on the orbiting complex also highlights the many areas of active space station research related to Earth observations, plant growth and combustion and materials sciences, as well as existing spinoff technologies in these areas.

› Read more about NASA's partnership with the U.S. Forest Service

Perhaps the clearest evidence of NASA’s unique role in the area of wildfires is the documentation and imagery of fire events from space. Throughout the space program, photos from space have provided a trove of insight into the spread and behavior of wildfires. That valuable perspective continues with the Crew Earth Observations program, in which astronauts onboard the station capture imagery in support of research in a wide variety of Earth Science subdisciplines.

› Read more about the Crew Earth Observations Program

To date, more than 350,000 such images have been captured from the station. In addition to serving as a unique record of environmental change on Earth, they help document short- and long-term events such as forest fires. Earth images also are collected through the education outreach program Earth Knowledge Acquired by Middle School Students (EarthKAM) in which students around the world request pictures of Earth taken by cameras mounted on the station.

› Read more about EarthKam

Earth photography helps researchers around the world understand changes in land use and vegetation growth, but active experiments onboard the complex go a step farther. Experiments have focused on plant growth and structure in the reduced gravity environment that help researchers understand and improve growth functions and techniques. One such experiment is Seedling Growth, which is being done in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA) and will help lead to advancements in agricultural production and reforestation on Earth.

› Read more about Seedling Growth

The unique space environment is an excellent platform for the study of combustion and material sciences. Over the years, work in these areas has led to an improved understanding of fire detection and suppression. Some of these include the USFS’ early warning system, ForWarn, and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization Global Fire Information Management System which detect changes in forest conditions that could cause wildfires using NASA satellite imagery and other data.

› Read more about U.S. Forest Service ForWarn Early Warning System
› Read more about Global Fire Information Management System
› NASA Satellite Data Aids United Nations' Ability to Detect Global Fire Hotspots

Also, ESA’s Night Pod project provides improved nighttime photography which has resulted in better detection of vegetation fires at night. And Firefly, a sensor derived from NASA’s remote sensing and image processing technologies, uses infrared scans and satellite-based navigation to guide firefighting aircraft.

› Read more about NightPod

Space technology also has led to improvements in fire retardant materials. Firefighting suits made of NASA-inspired flame retardant materials and face masks fashioned after NASA life support systems help protect firefighters on the ground.

Rocket technology used in ultrahigh pressure fire suppression systems allows firefighters to extinguish fires in less time using less water than ever before. Current space station experiments like Burning and Suppression of Solids can help scientists better understand the combustion properties of materials to develop even more efficient suppression methods.

› Read more about Burning and Suppression of Solids

Scientifically speaking, space may be a vacuum, but the research being done aboard the space station has implications that reverberate across the universe. From the living area of the station to Earth’s precious forests, fire safety is a very serious concern. The real success comes when citizens, in space and on Earth, do their part by making conscious decisions to stop wildfires before they start. Acaba demonstrates through his work with Smokey that even astronauts know that “only you can prevent wildfires.”

NASA and the USFS also are collaborating on the addition of space station sighting opportunity information for campgrounds and visitor centers in some of the country’s most pristine viewing locations. Look for the U.S. Forest Service link in the sightings database at:


For more information about benefits from the space station’s Earth observation capabilities, visit:


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› Read Joe Acaba's biography
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