CWRU teams up with NASA to perform the largest-ever fire safety experiment in space

Space is an unforgiving environment, and a fire on board a spacecraft is one of the most dangerous situations astronauts can face. So why on Earth—let alone off it— would researchers light one in space on purpose? Because a better understanding of how flames behave in microgravity could help keep astronauts safer.

Two aerospace engineering researchers at Case Western Reserve—professor James T’ien and assistant professor Ya-Ting Liao—teamed up with NASA Glenn Research Center along with scientists around the world to perform the largest fire safety experiment ever conducted in space when the unmanned Cygnus cargo module disembarked from the International Space Station last summer.

The experiment, called Saffire-I, was the first in a series of six to be conducted over the next five years that will give scientists valuable data on how large-scale fires grow and spread in space, which will help improve fire safety protocols and guide the development of new materials for the ISS and future manned missions to Mars.