Fireproof clothing

NASA contracted with Celanese Corp., a producer of chemicals and advanced materials founded in New York, to develop a line of heat- and flame-resistant PBI textiles that could be used in space suits and vehicles. The stiff fibers had virtually no melting point, and could retain both strength and flexibility after exposure to flame. The fabric was also resistant to mildew, abrasions and chemicals.

During the 1970s and 1980s, PBI was instrumental to NASA’s spaceflight program, and the material was used extensively on Apollo, Skylab and numerous space shuttle missions. PBI fibers were used in astronaut flight suits, clothing, and on tethers and other gear that required extreme thermal tolerance and durability.

In 1977, Carl Marvel was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Ronald Reagan. In 1978, the textile was incorporated into fire service in the U.S., and in 1983, PBI fibers were made commercially available.

PBI fabrics have since found countless military and civilian uses: lightweight, flame-resistant PBI fabrics provide protection for firefighters and U.S. Army troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. PBI fibers were also introduced for use in automotive braking systems and provide a fire-blocking layer in aircraft seats.

The fire retardant material is still widely used in the aerospace industry, but PBI is also finding uses in new fields that demand stability at high temperatures. Interestingly, the polymer that made its debut in space during the Apollo program was under consideration for use as insulation material in the motors of the Ares I and Ares V rockets under NASA’s now-canceled Constellation Program. (Ref: Click here)

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