News: Navy civilian firefighters save NASA satellite
Story by Joseph P Cirone
WASHINGTON – Civilian firefighters and their leaders based at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling (JBAB) helped save a $450 million satellite, belonging to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) from destruction, yesterday.
JBAB firefighters were dispatched at approximately 1 p.m. to an outside fire at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL).
Firefighters assigned to Engine Co. 41; Truck Co. 21; Ambulance 41 and Battalion Chief 41, joined forces with firefighters assigned to NRL-based Engine Co. 43 to quickly extinguish the fire. Engine Co. 42, based at the nearby Washington Navy Yard, also responded to the scene, but was not needed and was reassigned to another emergency call.
The firefighters found fire and smoke coming from the top of a tractor-trailer truck. Upon investigation, firefighters found fire originating from an environmental control unit (ECU), which was providing heat to a NASA Magnetospheric Multiscale Satellite (MMS) being transported on the trailer from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt. Md.
Firefighters extinguished the fire, while protecting the satellite from damage. The MMS was boxed and double wrapped during its transport to the NRL, where it was to undergo some testing, before a late 2014 launch, according to a NASA Goddard spokesman. All spacecraft must go through a series of rigorous tests before they are launched into space, according to NASA.
The ECU maintains the MMS in the right environmental state, including humidity, air filtration and temperature to protect its sensors, flight systems and other components, the spokesman said.
The MMS, one of four scheduled for launch, will investigate how the sun and Earth's magnetic fields connect and disconnect, explosively transferring energy from one to the other – a fundamental physical process that is known as magnetic reconnection, the spokesman stated.
While damage to the ECU was estimated at $50,000, the quick response and actions of firefighters saved not only the $405 million MMS, but more than a billion dollars in total for the American taxpayer, including the cost of the tests and the MMS, had it been destroyed, according to NASA and fire officials. NASA will inspect the MMS closer to confirm that its surface was not contaminated by smoke particles, the NASA spokesman explained.