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NASA Plans to Light Large Fire in Orbiting Spacecraft

FILE - Orbital ATK's Cygnus cargo craft approaches the International Space Station on Dec. 9, 2015.

In order to see how fire-resistant to make the new lightweight materials that will be used to build next-generation spacecraft, NASA plans to start a large fire in space.

The test "is crucial for the safety of current and future space missions," said NASA’s Gary Ruff in an interview Tuesday with AFP.

In the experiment, NASA wants to see how big the flames get, how they spread, and the amount of heat and gas released.

The fire will take place aboard an Orbital ATK Cygnus capsule, which is used to transport cargo to and from the International Space Station, after it has made a drop-off.

The spacecraft will be launched March 23 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, then head to the space station. Once it has moved a safe distance away, NASA will trigger the fire.

Called “Saffire-1,” the experiment is designed to give NASA engineers a better idea about how fire behaves in space and how much fire resistance to incorporate into new spaceships, as well as space suits.

"Understanding fire in space has been the focus of many experiments over the years," said Ruff, who added that while have small fires have been purposely lit in space, NASA needs to understand how a major fire would behave.

The fire is expected to burn for 20 minutes, during which data about temperature, oxygen and carbon dioxide will be recorded. The event will also be filmed.

Once the experiment is over, the capsule will re-enter Earth’s atmosphere and burn up.

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