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NASA scientists test fire shelters
Project could develop stronger material than is currently used in the States

April Hudson
Northern News Services
Monday, August 10, 2015

A group of NASA scientists have spent the summer in the Deh Cho on an earthly endeavor.

Engineers have finished up a first round of tests near Fort Providence in the pursuit of a fire shelter that can better withstand heat and flames from forest fires.

The project got off the ground after NASA learned of the loss of 19 firefighters in Arizona, who died in a blaze in the summer of 2013.

"We got in contact with the (United States) forestry service (to) find out if our technologies could benefit them," said NASA researcher Anthony Kalomino. He had a hand in the research leading up to the tests near Fort Providence and is affiliated with NASA's Langley Research Centre.

"In the process of those discussions happening, we found there was a good reason for collaborating, and we're doing that now."

When the forestry service contacted Kalomino's team and told them there was an opportunity to test the fire shelters in

the Northwest Territories, the scientists

packed up their gear and embarked on their mission.

The team was comprised of four NASA engineers and one contract engineer. Their original goal was to test 12 fire shelters in three controlled burns, but the team only had the chance to test four.

"We only got one controlled burn done before a forest fire broke out somewhere else and our fire crew was pulled off and deployed to that other fire," Kalomino said.

The team intends to come back to finish the project, although that likely will not happen for another year.

"Our engineers said that if we knew what the conditions were before ... we might not have done it at all because sometimes (scientists) will go out there and might not even get a burn off," Kalomino said.

"I think we were actually lucky to get the one."

The experimental shelters were based on three potential designs: a design lighter than the ones firefighters in the U.S. currently carry, one around the same weight and a heavier design meant to be carried around on a truck.

Each design offered more protection than the shelters that are currently used.

The controlled burn itself lasted about 45 seconds and all four shelters tested were still structurally intact at the end.

"That was the pulse, the duration of the high-intensity heat. It was pretty typical of what a forest fire would look like," Kalomino said.

"The preliminary data we're getting off the instrumentation that we had on the shelters shows that the temperatures were in line with what we thought they would be and we were getting pretty good performance from what we expected in our predictions."

NASA is developing thermal protection systems specifically to be lightweight and "robust," Kalomino said. Requirements include that they be flexible, packable and will withstand temperatures higher than those found in forest fires.

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