SYMPOSIA PAPER Published: 26 July 2016

Space Exploration and Fire Technology at Southwest Research Institute—Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future


Tragedies involving fires, explosions, or heat-induced structural failures are among the leading causes of property loss, injuries, and deaths in space travel. The risk is acute in oxygen-enriched environments or where other oxidizers are present. Working with the National Air and Space Administration's (NASA) space program since the agency's inception in 1958, staff have collaborated in the testing, research, and development resulting from the Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia accidents. Expertise has developed from conducting extensive programs dedicated to fire research and testing. Specialized staff perform fire resistance testing, material flammability testing, and research in fire technology on a wide range of projects supporting the engineering development of materials performance standards, materials certification, and product development. With the retirement of the shuttle fleet, NASA has shifted its focus toward the development of technologies and capabilities to carry humans beyond low-Earth-orbit (LEO), with an emphasis on lightweight materials to reduce costs. This requirement drives greater use of composites and synthetic materials whose fire resistance, flammability, smoke, and toxicity characteristics in spaceflight environments and microgravity conditions are not as well-known as more conventional materials. Consequently, there is a need to conduct fire research under microgravity conditions and atmospheric environments more closely representing spacecraft. Opinions expressed in this paper are the views of Southwest Research Institute.

Author Information

Downing, Walter, D.
Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio, TX, US
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Developed by Committee: G04
Pages: 1–14
DOI: 10.1520/STP159620160027
ISBN-EB: 978-0-8031-7638-6
ISBN-13: 978-0-8031-7637-9