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Understanding the need for a new firefighting system, NASA is working with several contractors to develop new technologies for Orion

As NASA prepares to retire the current generation of space shuttles in favor of the next-generation Orion, space researchers also are working on the next-generation of firefighting gear.

"In space, fires are like spheres," ADA Technologies VP of operations James Butz said during an interview with Discovery.  "They're not shaped like what we have on Earth."

Current hazardous situations in space are extremely dangerous and very difficult to deal with, and fires aboard a shuttle or the International Space Station (ISS) could prove to be catastrophic.

For example, what was expected to be a routine ignition of an oxygen-generating canister exploded aboard the space station Mir, causing a thick smoke to fill the space station.  The crew eventually put on gas masks and were able to extinguish the fire, but only after half the crew was blocked from reaching an escape pod because of the thick smoke and fire.

"There are mainly three emergencies that we train for -- a fire, a depressurization, or if the atmosphere becomes not livable," astronaut Sandra Magnus said after staying aboard the ISS for four months.  "If the situation can't be contained, we basically train to evacuate."

Since NASA hopes to use Orion to fly to the moon and later to Mars, it'd be impossible for astronauts aboard to simply evacuate in case of emergency.

NASA has dabbled with several different technologies aimed at extinguishing fires, but most of the prototype fire-fighting systems involve coating the area around a fire with "water foam" consisting of an oxygen-nitrogen mix.

Butz and ADA Technologies are now working with a $100,000 grant to further develop their extinguisher that stifles fires using a fine mist.  The ADA system also uses an oxygen-nitrogen mix -- which can be refilled at any time aboard the shuttle -- but is reportedly less messy than the other system.

It will be interesting to see what direction NASA goes with in regards to the fire extinguisher system on Orion, as it's an absolute necessity a safe system is installed for longer journeys in space.

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Vent the atmosphere
By MozeeToby on 4/7/2009 1:53:43 PM , Rating: 1
This sounds crazy, and surely shouldn't be Fire Fighting on the ISS Step One. But in extreme cases, venting the atmosphere would instantly put out the fire. If the section on fire can be isolated and the rest of the station kept pressurized perfect. Even if someone was in the section, if the venting and repressurization could take place in less than a minute properly trained (you have to resist the temptation to hold your breath especially)astronauts should survive.

Like I said, not an ideal solution, but probably workable if the alternative is certain death.

RE: Vent the atmosphere
By Mojo the Monkey on 4/7/2009 2:02:12 PM , Rating: 2
I dont know if that accounts for the rapid formation of nitrogen bubbles in your blood, which cannot be prevented by releasing your lungs' air.

re-pressurization chambers are likely too heavy to take along for the ride.

RE: Vent the atmosphere
By MozeeToby on 4/7/2009 2:19:15 PM , Rating: 3
Decompression sickness is probably the biggest issue that you'd have to deal with but experiments (and accidents) have shown that if you are repressurized within 90 seconds you will ussually make a full recovery on your own (no pressure chamber needed).

I probably should have put this in my origanal post, and this isn't really directed at you at all Mojo, but here's a list of things that won't happen.

Your body will not explode from the pressure drop.
You will not freeze instantly.
Your blood doesn't boil instantly, though it will eventually you'll be dead from oxygen deprivation before that happens.
You would not instantly lose conciousness, it takes about 15 seconds for the oxygen poor blood to reach your brain.

RE: Vent the atmosphere
By Samus on 4/7/2009 8:45:58 PM , Rating: 2
NASA follows typical NAVY protocol in seperation of chambers on a vessel. Think Battlestar Galactica and how each of the quarters has a chamber seal. I'm sure the ISS is built along the same lines, where as Mir is not.

RE: Vent the atmosphere
By PrinceGaz on 4/8/2009 12:49:05 PM , Rating: 2
Even the Apollo missions sent into Earth orbit around 1970 had a pressure-tight seal between two distinct habitable areas-- the command-module and the lunar-module.

I'm sure any Mars mission would consist of a ship consisting of several sections independently sent into orbit, each capable of being sealed from other sections.

Ever get the feeling
By mkruer on 4/7/2009 3:40:30 PM , Rating: 2
With NASA's recent history, Why do I get the feeling that the new fire extinguisher will be a toy supersoaker

RE: Ever get the feeling
By stromgald30 on 4/7/2009 4:31:54 PM , Rating: 3
Not a 'toy' supersoaker, it'll be a $10,000 supersoaker.

RE: Ever get the feeling
By ApfDaMan on 4/8/2009 7:05:00 AM , Rating: 2
Thats all? more like $100 million.

I bet it will have a cool laser...

By MADAOO7 on 4/7/2009 3:40:39 PM , Rating: 2
Do I hear F-Prize?

RE: Interesting...
By austinag on 4/7/2009 4:25:54 PM , Rating: 3
I think there is already an F-prize contest sponsored by some company called "Vivid something" and it's very, very different.

Fires must look crazy in space.
By FingerMeElmo87 on 4/7/2009 3:23:40 PM , Rating: 2
if fire tends to rise here on earth because of gravity and other factors, factors that aren't present in space, how do fires react since "Up" can't be defined in a zero-g atmosphere? do they float like water? or do they just spread furosciously through the cabin?

By stromgald30 on 4/7/2009 4:29:52 PM , Rating: 2
In space, fires don't spread 'upward' because the low gravity environment doesn't create convection currents. Flames become ball like instead of what we typically see on top of candles. A small butane lighter can create small balls of flame in low gravity environments. It's pretty cool.

Most accidental fires in space are generally smoldering type fires that don't have clearly visible flames. They generally crawl along the walls/components rather than leaping from one location to another due to hot embers and convection currents, which is how fires spread through a house.

By ggordonliddy on 4/7/09, Rating: 0
Oxygen in the mix?
By grath on 4/7/09, Rating: -1
RE: Oxygen in the mix?
By TSS on 4/7/2009 3:02:43 PM , Rating: 2
if you could find "air" that humans can breathe but cannot combust or be used to fuel a fire, you've got space gold.

it seems that nasa is giving that a try. who knows, they might find something usable.

personally i'd rather see nasa sinking millions then banks sinking billions. or goverments sinking trillions. because only the first will actually achieve anything.

RE: Oxygen in the mix?
By murphyslabrat on 4/7/2009 3:50:11 PM , Rating: 2
Further, if it is a nitrogen-oxygen compound, then, assuming it evaporates eventually, it is just recirculated. Further, this means that running out of the material wouldn't be an issue either.

RE: Oxygen in the mix?
By Jellodyne on 4/7/2009 9:40:13 PM , Rating: 2
Simple, just get rid of that pesky oxygen!

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