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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