If a fire breaks out inside the cabin of a small spacecraft, there's nowhere to run. The movie Gravity certainly made it look terrifying.
But in order to figure out how a large fire would really behave in space, NASA is planning to light one on purpose.
The test will involve burning material inside a 3-foot-by-3-foot-by-5-foot container aboard the Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo spacecraft that will launch March 22. The spacecraft will carry supplies to the International Space Station, and on its return trip to Earth, engineers will remotely ignite the fire. Researchers will collect data and video footage from the experiment.
This will be the largest space fire ever lit by humans. (NASA has previously performed small combustion tests on the ISS.) The materials being burned include things found on the ISS and in the Orion space capsule that NASA plans to use to send astronauts to Mars.
"NASA's objective is to reduce the risk of long-duration exploration missions, and a spacecraft fire is one of the biggest concerns for NASA and the international space exploration community," Jason Crusan, NASA's advanced exploration system director, said in a statement.
Why it matters: The tests will help NASA understand how fire behaves in space. It will also help NASA develop safer materials and technology to protect future crews and spacecraft.
"Gaining a better understanding of how fire behaves in space will help further NASA's efforts in developing better materials and technologies to reduce crew risk and increase space flight safety," Gary Ruff, NASA's Spacecraft Fire Safety Demonstration project manager, said in a statement.
NASA is all too familiar with that risk. In 1967, a fire broke out inside the cabin during a preflight test and killed all three members of Apollo 1 — the first manned mission of the Apollo moon program.
h/t Universe Today