Milliken Takes Textile Research Out Of This World

Posted on Feb 15, 2016 3:39:00 PM, by Mollie Williams

It’s safe to say that at one point or another, everyone wonders what it might be like to be in outer space, or even communicate with people who are.


Right now, Jeff Strahan, research and development manager of flame resistant textiles at Milliken & Company, is getting to experience this first hand. In fact, he’s spearheading a collaboration with the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to test flame resistant (FR) textiles in space on the International Space Station (ISS).

Phenomena act differently in space than they do on earth, and this concept applies to fire. How might this affect how flame resistant textiles act in space?

On earth, nylon textiles catch on fire and then melt, which is why adequate FR chemistries are critical to create effective FR apparel. But what does it do in space without gravity? There is no previous research that examines how engineered nylon fabrics for FR apparel burn in space, so Jeff set out to discover how that particular fire would behave.

To begin, Jeff and his team conducted control experiments at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, using the same technique and equipment that would be used on the ISS. After the control was observed, Milliken flew 40-45 samples of various fabrics with air flow conditions to the ISS for testing in December 2015.

Ever since, the ISS team has been performing weekly FR textile tests. Each time, Jeff attends video conferences with NASA’s team in Cleveland and on the ISS to watch the experiments as they happen. He’ll also receive the burned samples once the testing is complete.

“Science is about unexpected results,” Jeff commented, noting that his team was able to reach breakthrough outcomes from day one. “In our first experiment burning 100% cotton, not treated with flame resistant chemistries, the fabric burned really slowly. It was interesting for that to be the behavior control without any flame retardants in the fabric. We certainly weren’t expecting it.”

What’s most exciting? What this means for innovation at Milliken. “We have very talented people, and we also know that there are other talented people elsewhere,” Jeff shared. “Collaboration is a great tool to have when you’re not closed off to the world.” Or, in this case, outer space.

Click here to watch a weekly video update of Milliken’s FR research and other NASA happenings on the ISS.

Topics: Innovation

Mollie Williams

Written by Mollie Williams

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