the smell of space

ISS Science Officer Don Pettit:
Each time, when I repressed the airlock, opened the hatch and welcomed two tired workers inside, a peculiar odor tickled my olfactory senses. At first I couldn't quite place it. It must have come from the air ducts that re-pressed the compartment. Then I noticed that this smell was on their suit, helmet, gloves, and tools. It was more pronounced on fabrics than on metal or plastic surfaces. It is hard to describe this smell; it is definitely not the olfactory equivalent to describing the palette sensations of some new food as "tastes like chicken." The best description I can come up with is metallic; a rather pleasant sweet metallic sensation. It reminded me of my college summers where I labored for many hours with an arc welding torch repairing heavy equipment for a small logging outfit. It reminded me of pleasant sweet smelling welding fumes. That is the smell of space.

30 Responses:

  1. slacktide says:

    I wonder of you can get high off of space fumes? Mark my words, we'll soon see a nationwide epidemic of 13 year old kids huffing their electrolux. After all, space is a vacuum.

  2. phoenixredux says:

    That's just cool.

  3. gfish says:

    That sounds like a very nice smell.

    I miss my workshop. :(

  4. gryazi says:

    Let's see -- they're almost 200 miles up on a good day, practically just high enough for atmospheric drag to be a surmountable problem. So there's probably the faintest whiff of atmosphere left, combined with the extremely low outdoor pressure sucking every volatile it can out of the suit and station materials, and the charge placed on the station skin (anyone remember what the concept is? particle protection?) causing who-knows-what ions to cloud around it.

    I bet he's mostly smelling the external 'atmosphere' formed by the ship itself, not that that's a bad thing; it's not like there're any roses to sniff out there.

    Also, will plot visible passes of the station, and they can be quite impressive. Since it's so low, strong binoculars can be enough to make out the solar panels/overall shape.

  5. drkscrtlv says:

    He was smelling their tools.

  6. killbox says:

    Yes, i loved that article when it came up a few days ago, A friends wants to launch canisters into space to have them fill with space and have them re-enter earth for people to engineer a cologne based upon the smell.

  7. I know that smell. Freshly cleaned steel with a hint of cutting oil and the ozone of the arc all wafting together.

    Oxy Acetyline adds a particular sweetness to the mix wheras MIG or TIG is much more bitter in my opinion.

  8. dossy says:

    He's smelling our ozone layer, dissipating into space, wafting past the ISS.

  9. Previously I encountered other reports of the "space smell" - like this cnn article, or this blog post. These two mention "gunpowder" and "cooking" as the "space smell." If I remember correctly I first encountered a mention of the phenomenon in Red Star in Orbit by James E. Oberg, which cited being cinnamony or otherwise spicy. By the way, the book is pretty awesome in mentioning all kinds of space trivia, from customary pissing on the runway for good luck by cosmonauts to the supposed freakout that Valentina Tereshkova had on her flight.

    Space stations usually smell like ass, what with all that stationary biking they have to do and weekly clothing changes.

    • While I was looking for the old articles, this turned up:

      "Based on the observations of astronauts and on lead sniffer Les Small's own "close encounter with a meteorite," the unisex essential oil, Meteorite Accord, may soon be headed to a perfume counter near you."

    • decibel45 says:

      I've also heard it described as almonds. IIRC that's from someone who visited the ISS aboard a Soyuz.

    • niteshad says:

      Personally, I'm just curious if Valentina Tershkova kept up that particular custom.

  10. jwz says:

    I love the part where all these commenters here on my LJ are explaining to the astronaut on the space station what obvious thing it is that he is smelling.

    If only NASA would budget someone to just read comments here on my blog, they could learn so much!

  11. strangehours says:

    I bet all his coworkers are backing away slowly and breaking out the crowbar and the sedatives.

  12. dougo says:

    Smells like victory.