Posted by: movieotaku | April 27, 2007

Fire in Space

How many times in movies and television have you watched a ship burning in space? Too many, right? Are you aware that doesn’t happen? Space is a vacuum. A void. Practically empty. There’s no oxygen to fuel a fire.[1]

Even if it is coming from inside the ship, it would have to be an extremely slow leak. Air leaking into a vacuum is traveling at almost the speed of sound; that’s not enough time for it to stick around and fuel a fire. Also, an atmosphere leaking into a vacuum disperses into an extremely thin cloud—too thin to fuel a large fire—that continues dispersing indefinitely. The person who suggested this boner to me pointed out “Fire in Space” from Battlestar Galactica. Looking over an episode summary of the episode, it’s probably the best handling I’ve seen of the matter to date. The risk of fire inside a ship is very great (just look at Mir), but when a ship is cut in two by some bad-guy slicer-dicer ray, you are not going to see flames spouting out of the ship.

[1]  I wrote this a long time ago, but looking at it again, I can think of some objections to this complaint.  Plasma fires (for example, from a fushion reactor) could create a “flame like” effect but it wouldn’t be the flickering candle variety.  Also, rocket fuels with mixed in oxidizers (like a solid rocket propellent) can also burn in a vacuum.

My main objection is to fire in a vacuum being shown as a a flickering flame like in an atmosphere and the idea of ships burning in space without a source of oxygen.


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