Space smells like seared steak, hot metal, astronauts report (+video)
Astronauts returning from spacewalks frequently report a distinct odor clinging to their spacesuits and equipment.
Astronauts who have gone on spacewalks consistently speak of space's extraordinarily peculiar odor.Skip to next paragraph
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They can't smell it while they're actually bobbing in it, because the interiors of their space suits just smell plastic-y. But upon stepping back into the space station and removing their helmets, they get a strong, distinctive whiff of the final frontier. The odor clings to their suit, helmet, gloves and tools.
Fugitives from the near-vacuum — probably atomic oxygen, among other things — the clinging particles have the acrid aroma of seared steak, hot metal and welding fumes. Steven Pearce, a chemist hired by NASA to recreate the space odor on Earth for astronaut training purposes, said the metallic aspect of the scent may come from high-energy vibrations of ions.
"It's like something I haven't ever smelled before, but I'll never forget it," NASA astronaut Kevin Ford said from orbit in 2009. [Space Sights and Smells Surprise Rookie Astronauts]
But astronauts don't dislike the sharp smell of space, necessarily. After a 2003 mission, astronaut Don Pettit described it this way on a NASA blog:
"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."
The interior of the International Space Station smells a little more mundane. Pettit, who recently returned from a second six-month-long mission on the ISS, told SPACE.com, "[The space station] smells like half machine-shop-engine-room-laboratory, and then when you're cooking dinner and you rip open a pouch of stew or something, you can smell a little roast beef."
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