Fires on Earth are bad, but in space they are worse. On Earth, when fire gets hots enough to turn metal molten, the droplets don’t hang around in the air like a burning mine field. Inside a space station they do. On February 24, 1997, American astronaut Jerry Linenger learned this first-hand, and not only did he manage to survive the worst fire in the history of orbiting spacecraft and save his Russian crewmates aboard the Mir, he learned how to make the next mission safer, with science.
Dr. Linenger’s relatively unknown story, and many more like it, are featured in the new show Secret Space Escapes on Science Channel. I had the absolute pleasure of talking with this incredibly impressive human at Nerdist HQ, and he describes his experience on the Mir — including how he experimented with what he learned about space fire to benefit future astronauts — in the video above. It comes through when he speaks, but it’s still hard to believe anyone could be so calm and collected when facing down disaster.
And Linenger also took the time to answer some of your questions submitted to #AskAnAstronaut! In the video below, he answers who in NASA history was an inspiration, what actually surprised him about space even after years of training, and if he’s biologically younger than his chronological age…Relativity, it’s weird y’all.
Secret Space Escapes airs Tuesday nights at 10/9c on Science Channel. If you want to learn more about Linenger’s experience, you can get his memoir, Off the Planet: Surviving Five Perilous Months Aboard the Space Station Mir here.