Smoke and fire alarms in Russian ISS module Zvezda

In the middle of the night prior to a successful spacewalk by two Russian astronauts to begin the outfitting of the new Nauka module on ISS, fire alarms sounded in the Zvezda module, and both astronauts smelled smoke.

The incident, which the Russian space agency Roscosmos said happened at 1:55 a.m. GMT (9:55 p.m. EDT Wednesday) ahead of a scheduled spacewalk, is the latest in a string of problems to spur safety concerns over conditions on the Russian segment. “A smoke detector was triggered in the Zvezda service module of the Russian segment of the International Space Station during automatic battery charging, and an alarm went off,” Roscosmos said in a statement.

French astronaut Thomas Pesquet said “the smell of burning plastic or electronic equipment” wafted to the US segment of the station, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported, citing a NASA broadcast.

The Russian crew turned on a filter and, after the air was cleaned up, the astronauts went back to sleep, Roscosmos said.

It appears that because all the systems on the Russia portion of ISS continued to function normally, the Russians did no investigation. Or if they did, they have not revealed what they found. Nor has NASA provided any information.

In their history the Russians have experienced a number of fires on their various space stations. Some burned out without consequence (as it appears this recent one did). Others required aggressive action to bring them under control, as occurred on Mir several times. This history has apparently made the Russians somewhat nonchalant about such things.

That the issue was in Zvezda, however, which has a serious structural stress fracture problem in its hull, should be cause for a greater concern. Is this burn event related to the stress fractures? If I was an astronaut on board ISS I would surely want to know.

Cygnus fire experiments a success

The fire experiments that were done on the Cygnus cargo freighter after it left ISS two weeks ago have been declared a success.

Saffire-II burned nine different samples, in an effort to gauge the flammability of various materials in a microgravity environment. These 12-by-2-inch (30 by 5 centimeters) samples included silicon of different thicknesses; a cotton-fiberglass blend; plexiglass; and Nomex, a commercially available material that’s used in spacecraft on cargo bags and as a fire barrier, NASA officials said. Everything went well during the experiment, they added: All nine samples burned as planned, and the Saffire-II team collected more than 100,000 images. All data had come back down to Earth by Friday (Nov. 25), at which point Saffire-II achieved “complete mission success,” NASA officials wrote in an update.

This was the second set of fire tests. There are plans for a third on a future Cygnus freighter.

Starting a fire in space, on purpose

Engineers plan to intentionally start fires in every Cygnus capsule heading for ISS this year, beginning with the next on Tuesday, but they will wait each time until the freighter has been docked, unloaded, and has left the station.

“The specific goals of the SAFFIRE experiments are to investigate the spread of a large-scale fire in microgravity, essentially trying to answer the questions of how large does a fire get and how rapidly does it spread, or how long does it take to get to the point of being really hazardous to the crew.”

NASA intends to run SAFFIRE experiments on three consecutive Cygnus spacecraft launching through the end of this year. The SAFFIRE 1 and 3 tests will use single samples 15.7 inches wide by 37 inches tall to watch the development and spread of a large-scale low-gravity fire. Scientists want to know if there is a limiting flame size and to quantify the size and growth rate of flames over large surfaces. “SAFFIRE is a box with a wind tunnel in it, a flow duct, that contains the sample that will be burned,” said Ruff. With two cameras poised to capture the fire, a hot wire along the upstream edge of the fiberglass-cotton fabric sample will trigger the burn that should last at least 15 or 20 minutes.

This is very clever, using the capsule as a fire test facility when it is on its way back to Earth to burn up in the atmosphere.

When did humans begin using fire?

A cave in Israel suggests that the human use of fire began around 350,000 years ago.

The researchers examined artifacts previously excavated from the site, which are mostly flint tools for cutting and scraping, and flint debris created in their manufacture. To determine when fire became a routine part of the lives of the cave dwellers, the team looked at flints from about 100 layers of sediments in the lowermost 16 meters of the cave deposits.

In layers older than roughly 350,000 years, almost none of the flints are burned. But in every layer after that, many flints show signs of exposure to fire: red or black coloration, cracking, and small round depressions where fragments known as pot lids flaked off from the stone. Wildfires are rare in caves, so the fires that burned the Tabun flints were probably controlled by ancestral humans, according to the authors. The scientists argue that the jump in the frequency of burnt flints represents the time when ancestral humans learned to control fire, either by kindling it or by keeping it burning between natural wildfires.

There are enormous uncertainties here, but the data also appears to match with what has been found in Europe. The problem however is that this date is long after humans had already migrated to colder climates, which means that they were somehow surviving for a long time in these hostile environments without fire, something that is puzzling.

FIRE sues to end university speech codes

Pushback: The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) today filed lawsuits against the speech codes at four universities.

Read the article. The specific examples are quite oppressive. For example:

At Citrus College in California, student Vincenzo Sinapi-Riddle is challenging three unconstitutional policies, including a free speech zone that the school already agreed to abolish after a 2003 lawsuit. Not only did Citrus College reinstitute its “Free Speech Area,” comprising a miniscule 1.37% of campus, but it also requires student organizations to undergo a two-week approval process for any expressive activity.

Mojave Spaceport temporarily evacuated due to a small scrap metal fire.

Mojave Spaceport temporarily evacuated due to a small scrap metal fire.

The official statement can be read here. As noted by Doug Messier,

There’s a question of why scrap material (or any other flammable material) was anywhere near a tank full of nitrous oxide. In consulting with one expert who uses nitrous oxide, I was told that a blast could have possibly damaged everything within 1,000 feet. That’s basically two complete football fields with end zones plus another 93 yards. There are a lot of irreplaceable people and technologies within 1,000 feet of where that fire took place.

Then again, a fire can occur almost anywhere, and it is often impossible to keep it away from flammable materials.

The Connecticut college that threatened a student with expulsion for daring to ask the governor questions about his gun control position took down its Facebook page rather than answer questions for critics posting there.

The Connecticut college that threatened a student with expulsion for daring to ask the governor questions about his gun control position took down its own Facebook page rather than answer questions of critics posting there.

After a trial in which Saucier’s acquitting evidence — the video itself — was kept out of light, administrators told Saucier that any further disturbance could result in his expulsion. After the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education drew attention to Saucier’s plight, sympathetic people began posting questions on ACC’s Facebook page. ACC first chose simply to delete critical posts. Eventually, it took down its Facebook page entirely. FIRE captured screenshots of the page, however.

A fire at a radar site used by the Air Force to track rockets lifting off at the Kennedy Space Center has delayed all launches there, including SpaceX’s next Falcon 9 flight.

A fire at a radar site used by the Air Force to track rockets lifting off at the Kennedy Space Center has delayed all launches there, including SpaceX’s next Falcon 9 flight.

Initially the Air Force thought they could make repairs relatively quick, but now think it could take as long as 45 days. No new launch date for the Falcon 9/Dragon flight as yet been set.

A company fires an employee because he put out a fire.

Madness: A company fires an employee because he put out a fire.

Bowers knew that his actions were going against company policy, but he believed that in this instance the customers urgent need came first. “When the guy came in and said his dashboard was on fire I grabbed the fire extinguisher and I followed him outside and sure enough his dashboard was on fire,” Bowers said. They quickly put out the fire and Bowers returned to his post.

He was later called into the store director’s office where he was suspended for his actions. “The one supervisor told me that my heart was in the right place, but my brain wasn’t,” Bowers said. Later that week, he was fired from his job for not following company policy.

The company is Meijer’s, which is going to discover this is a major public relations disaster. Just read the comments at the link.