NASA lights a fire in space on board trash-filled Cygnus resupply vehicle

On Tuesday, NASA started a fire in space in an experiment aimed at studying how fire behaves under micro-gravity conditions. The experiment was conducted in a trash-filled Cygnus resupply vehicle on its return trip from the International Space Station, as the Cygnus was going to burn up anyway on its reentry into the earth's atmosphere.

The experiment got underway at 4:55 pm, Tuesday, inside an insulated container in the Cygnus, miles above the earth.

The capsule that contained the experiment was outfitted with a video camera and other sensors, as also an exhaust system to keep air moving through to feed the flames. In response to a radio signal from scientists at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, a hot wire touched a towel-sized card of woven cotton and fibreglass and fire started within seconds.

Gary Ruff, project manager of the experiment dubbed "Saffire I" (a combination of "safe" and "fire"), monitored the experiment as data streamed down to his desk at NASA Glenn. On the morning after the fire, he concluded from the data that the material had taken eight minutes to burn, a lot longer than it would have taken on earth.

"We want to know how big can a fire get, how rapidly does it grow, how rapidly do the conditions inside the vehicle change?" Ruff said, The Washington Post reported.

Meanwhile, for the first time yesterday, members of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology met to discuss the health of astronauts and the moral obligations that NASA had towards former astronauts for providing lifetime healthcare.

Astronauts currently do not get healthcare after they retire from the space agency, but Congress is considering passing legislation to authorise NASA to do so.

Additionally, the space agency wanted keep an eye on astronauts' health, conducting MRIs of astronauts' eyes and screening for cancer - in order to better understand the impact of space travel on the human body.