Experiments You Can Do at Home - But Probably Shouldn't

Chapter 4
Playing With Fire » Flaming Oxygen Drops

In large quantities, pure liquid oxygen is powerful enough to launch rockets. But even a tiny bit packs a wallop too. Oxygen is a good thing. Oxygen is life. But if it were much more than one fifth of our air, we'd be in serious trouble. The other four fifths is nitrogen, an almost completely inert, obstructionist gas whose main effect is to get in the way of the oxygen, especially where flame is involved.

For every bit of oxygen a fire consumes, it has to heat up and push away four times as much useless nitrogen. With pure oxygen, that damper is gone, and things that merely smolder in plain air go up like dry tinder. In 1967 three Apollo 1 astronauts died in a raging fire when Velcro lit up in their pure-oxygen pressurized space capsule.

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