This Week in Space! – February 24, 1997 – Fire Onboard the Mir Space Station

This Week in Space! – February 24, 1997 – Fire Onboard the Mir Space Station

This Week in Space! – February 24, 1997 – Fire Onboard the Mir Space Station


Featured image courtesy NASA

By Wes O’Donnell
Managing Editor of In MilitaryInCyberDefense and In Space News.

Twenty-three years ago, six crew members on the Russian Space Station Mir faced significant danger when fire broke out in the solid fuel oxygen generator. The searing flames, which erupted from a fuel cartridge, cut off access to one of two Soyuz escape capsules.

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According to Gizmodo, fire looks different in space — it forms a gas-lined sphere. The fire aboard Mir, however, created a close-quarters blowtorch due to the constant oxygen supply released from a faulty oxygen canister.

Color image of a fuel droplet burning in space during NASA’s Flame Extinguishment Experiment aboard the International Space Station. (Image: NASA/GRC)

Crew members took turns using fire extinguishers, with at least one cosmonaut needed to hold the other in place so that they did not move backward in the absence of gravity.

What was Mir?

A Russian-designed space station, Mir became a crowning achievement for the Russian Federation reflecting past space glories and a promising future. Mir spent 15 years in orbit, three times its planned lifetime, and hosted crewmembers from all over the world.

Someone once called Mir a 100-ton Tinker Toy, a term that recalled Mir’s construction. Adding modules over the years, and then sometimes rearranging them, the Russians had built the strangest, biggest structure ever seen in outer space.

NASA-4 Mir Astronaut Jerry Linenger compared Mir to “six school buses all hooked together. It was as if four of the buses were driven into a four-way intersection at the same time. They collided and became attached.”

In fact, Linenger was onboard the space station during the fire incident.

Outside view of the Mir space station. (Image: NASA)

Linenger described the flame as a “raging blowtorch.” He disputed the Russian claims that the fire only lasted 90 seconds, reporting in his debrief back on Earth that the fire lasted 14 very tense minutes. Thankfully, all crewmembers returned safely.

You can read NASA’s full report of the fire from the Office of Safety and Mission Assurance. Lessons learned in fire response were later implemented on the International Space Station.