Experimenting with Fire to Find Safe Materials for Space

Fire behaves very differently in low- and zero-gravity environments. Discovering how the mechanisms of combustion differ in these environments is the goal of San Diego State University mechanical engineers Subrata Bhattacharjee and Fletcher Miller, and it could lead to safer space travel and a more complete understanding of fire on earth. On earth, our atmosphere is about 21-percent oxygen, but engineers can regulate the oxygen aboard spacecraft. High oxygen levels can lead to extremely flammable conditions, as seen in the fatal Apollo 1 disaster. Results from their experiments will help the researchers refine their theories about flame dynamics and help NASA qualify materials as safe for use on spacecraft.