ASTRONAUTS aboard space shuttle Columbia conducted an intense day of science experiments Sunday including lighting a "campfire" in a $1-million furnace. The purpose is to test the nature of fires set in near-zero gravity.
Pilot Scott Horowitz ignited different materials as part of a test to see how air motion affects the spread of fire. On Earth, air movement helps the spread of fire, but less is known about how fire spreads in near-zero gravity.
A better understanding of fire in space will help predict how fires will behave on Earth and aboard spacecraft, say officials at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
As Mr. Horowitz ignited a fuel sample in a box that provides a contained space for the fire, a blue flame erupted. "It is a much longer and more evolved flame than yesterday," Horowitz said. "It looks like a jet engine running up here."
Horowitz confessed that, between experiment runs, he was looking out the shuttle's window. "It's nice to have a laboratory with a window," he said. "I wish I had this office all the time."
The air-flow and fire experiments are one of three sets of combustion tests that will be conducted in the "glovebox," where astronauts can handle dangerous or toxic materials.
Columbia's seven-member, international crew is scheduled to land the orbiter Thursday morning at Kennedy Space Center.