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The Smell of Space

samzenpus posted more than 5 years ago | from the excuse-me-while-I-smell-the-sky dept.

Space 70

According to NASA scientists, space smells a lot like my uncle's workshop. One can detect hints of fried steak, hot metal, and the welding of a motorbike. They have hired Steven Pearce, a chemist and managing director of fragrance manufacturing company Omega Ingredients, to recreate the smell in a laboratory. NASA will use his research to help train potential astronauts. Steven said, "I did some work for an art exhibition in July, which was based entirely on smell, and one of the things I created was the smell of the inside of the Mir space station. NASA heard about it and contacted me to see if I could help them recreate the smell of space to help their astronauts."

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70 comments

We need idle ? why? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25402707)

smells like Uranus

Re:We need idle ? why? (1)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 5 years ago | (#25403817)

Still better than Urectum.

Re:We need idle ? why? (1)

Barryke (772876) | more than 5 years ago | (#25409897)

I love slashdot.

How do you smell space? (1)

snowraver1 (1052510) | more than 5 years ago | (#25402753)

I don't get it. If there is no air, how does space have a smell?

Re:How do you smell space? (1)

Killer Orca (1373645) | more than 5 years ago | (#25402787)

I can't wait for that name change to Urectum to end that joke once and for all.

Re:How do you smell space? (1)

Tim Little (1211554) | more than 5 years ago | (#25402839)

As I have understood it, they're going to recreate what astronauts smell while in space, in other words, the inside of the shuttle and space suits, not space itself.

Re:How do you smell space? (1)

rugatero (1292060) | more than 5 years ago | (#25404393)

...the inside of the shuttle and space suits...

I really don't want to know what the inside of the space suit smells like.

Re:How do you smell space? (2, Informative)

rhartness (993048) | more than 5 years ago | (#25402849)

Wow, guys. You didn't even need to read the article-- the summary states that this is the smell of the MIR space station.

Re:How do you smell space? (3, Informative)

Bob-taro (996889) | more than 5 years ago | (#25403199)

Wow, guys. You didn't even need to read the article-

Actually, if you DO read the article (the one linked from the older slashdot post), you'll see that the airlock operator noticed the smell on the spacesuits of his fellow astronauts after each spacewalk.

Re:How do you smell space? (1)

theprophetofmephisto (1163535) | more than 5 years ago | (#25408631)

generally, i was under the impression that the smell you smelled was ozone.

Re:How do you smell space? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25410237)

This is slashdot. Nobody reads the article. They produce pro-linux knee jerk reactions to whatever flammatory summary is available.

Re:How do you smell space? (1)

hesaigo999ca (786966) | more than 5 years ago | (#25404521)

Must have been all that bad BO

Re:How do you smell space? (1)

Fluffeh (1273756) | more than 5 years ago | (#25406081)

Training Plan:

Day One: This is Roger's aroma. Note the hint of slight mildew. Roger has foot fungus.
Day Two: Ahhh, now this is distinct. You will note the spicey waft. Srini is a big fan of a good curry.
Day Three: This should be a breeze now, Natalie is a total sports fanatic. Actually, you could probably smell her from the OUTSIDE of the ship. Day Four: .....

Re:How do you smell space? (3, Interesting)

retchdog (1319261) | more than 5 years ago | (#25402883)

It has a smell likely because we perceive sensations by association, in a relative manner. It's a cute (though somewhat frivolous) trick to simulate this association by engineering.

If you've ever been in an acoustically-isolated chamber, the silence is so overwhelming that it almost has its own sound. We're just not used to such near-perfect silence, so we try to interpret the novelty as a sound.

Similarly, if you put near-pure (95%) alcohol on your tongue, it will feel greasy because it is so dry that it dehydrates your tongue. The absence of water feels greasy.

Re:How do you smell space? (3, Interesting)

Knuckles (8964) | more than 5 years ago | (#25404261)

If you've ever been in an acoustically-isolated chamber, the silence is so overwhelming that it almost has its own sound. We're just not used to such near-perfect silence, so we try to interpret the novelty as a sound.

I thought what you hear is the sound of yourself? You know, blood streaming and stuff. Ah, right, here we go [bbc.co.uk] .

Re:How do you smell space? (1)

retchdog (1319261) | more than 5 years ago | (#25404421)

Good call. I was thinking of the immediate impression I got, the "blanket of silence" which he felt as a weight. Shortly afterward you start hearing your biology.

Re:How do you smell space? (1)

Knuckles (8964) | more than 5 years ago | (#25405869)

Interesting, and the guy in the article seems to talk about the same experience. Consider yourself envied.

Re:How do you smell space? (1)

Trogre (513942) | more than 5 years ago | (#25409829)

That, my friend, would be the sweet sound of tinnitus.

Re:How do you smell space? (1)

retchdog (1319261) | more than 5 years ago | (#25411859)

Maybe. It sounded different to me.

Re:How do you smell space? (1)

Fallen Kell (165468) | more than 5 years ago | (#25402907)

It is from all the space dust that gets into the ships/station(s) by the air locks as well as carried in from suits/objects that are worn or used in space. That is how you smell space.

You're confusing space with the Moon (1)

SleptThroughClass (1127287) | more than 5 years ago | (#25403405)

I think you're confused between the smell of the ISS (workshop) with the smell of lunar dust (gunpower).

Re:How do you smell space? (1)

pz (113803) | more than 5 years ago | (#25405477)

It is from all the space dust that gets into the ships/station(s) by the air locks as well as carried in from suits/objects that are worn or used in space. That is how you smell space.

Also don't forget that any object that's brought outside of a spacecraft (like a spacesuit) is exposed to lots of ionizing radiation. When the object is brought back inside and the volatiles created on its surface allowed to mix with the internal atmosphere to create an odor, I can imagine there might be a characteristic smell.

Re:How do you smell space? (4, Interesting)

Fox_1 (128616) | more than 5 years ago | (#25402933)

You can smell underwater , well not you per se- there's a creature - a shrew or vole I think, or maybe muskrat. Anyways there is a Rat like creature that when underwater blows a small bubble of air out it's nose and then sucks it back (kinda the inverse of the spit/snot drop we've all done as kids). This allows it to smell the water and the scent of things in the water. It can actually track underwater by smell.

I think this story is referring to the locker room smell of human habitats in space, not actually the smell of space. But there are chemicals in space - it's not actually nothing nothing nothing and then planets and sun. In theory one could put atmosphere into a sample of 'vacuum' and try to sniff anything that volatilizes. But concentrations of matter are so low in space that it still seems kinda implausible.

So my point is, I don't know how to smell space, but I didn't know how smell underwater either until I watched the discovery channel.

Re:How do you smell space? (1)

pipingguy (566974) | more than 5 years ago | (#25403737)

kinda the inverse of the spit/snot drop we've all done as kids

How to make fake snot [about.com]

Re:How do you smell space? (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 5 years ago | (#25402949)

That is not space that you are smelling . . . it is what your fellow astronauts had to eat yesterday . . . digested.

Re:How do you smell space? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25403985)

Everyone that has tried to smell space has exploded so far since you have to take off your helmet in the vacuum of space to smell it.

Re:How do you smell space? (2, Informative)

sonnejw0 (1114901) | more than 5 years ago | (#25406057)

Actually, astronauts have reported after spacewalks that their space suits collect a semi-metallic, sweet smell to them after they return to the shuttle/vehicle. Of course, depending upon the nature of the spacewalk, this could have been a collection of fine particles from welding and repairing a satellite, or exhaust that collected to the exterior of the shuttle during launch. Here's a link to NASA.gov with an astronaut's recounting of smelling 'space residue' http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/station/crew/exp6/spacechronicles4.html [nasa.gov]

Re:How do you smell space? (1)

olclops (591840) | more than 5 years ago | (#25406605)

I've read about this before, and I forget the details, but yeah, it's not actually space proper. It's really the smell of the space station. Something about the ionization of the metal walls when exposed to radiation, and there's no atmosphere to dissipate the charge into. Or something.

Re:How do you smell space? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25406707)

With a smelloscope, of course!!!

A smell, sure... (3, Funny)

FauxPasIII (75900) | more than 5 years ago | (#25402773)

But does it has a flavor?

Re:A smell, sure... (1)

Miladinoski (1280850) | more than 5 years ago | (#25402891)

But does it has a flavor?

Go ahead and try.

Re:A smell, sure... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25403507)

http://www.pbfcomics.com/?cid=PBF022-Space_Helmet.jpg

Re:A smell, sure... (1)

Fluffeh (1273756) | more than 5 years ago | (#25406039)

Hmmm, that's one thing I don't want to lick to find out.

Re:A smell, sure... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25406121)

But does it has a flavor?

That's easy. The space air, it tastes like schnozberries [urbandictionary.com] .

Re:A smell, sure... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25407703)

But does it has a flavor?

Apparently so... www.spacefoodsticks.com

Potential Training (3, Funny)

Van Cutter Romney (973766) | more than 5 years ago | (#25402813)

NASA will use his research to help train potential astronauts.

It's okay Richard, just try opening the helmet for few seconds.

Just PR (1)

Framboise (521772) | more than 5 years ago | (#25402867)

Such news are made for improving PR but make no real sense for practical space activities. While a space station air certainly smells something, space gas is so dilute that no smelling may be perceived.

It is a bit like the sound or temperature of space, sometimes described for similar purposes. These cannot be perceived directly by normal people.

Re:Just PR (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25403255)

Actually, you're pretty ignorant. I fly for a living; and smells have saved my life. Knowing what "normal" smells like lets you recognize and analyze abnormal smells. Is that smell burning hydraulic fluid or misting hydraulic fluid? The difference is important, when you decide what to do about a hydraulic leak. (e.g. Do you turn off bleed air and pressurization and electrics because it's a fire, or do you isolate hydraulic systems so that you only loose one when the system fails completely). In other words, it's not a PR stunt, it's worthwhile training.

Re:Just PR (2, Informative)

iteyoidar (972700) | more than 5 years ago | (#25403529)

Too bad I just ran out of mod points. This would be my best guess as to why they're trying to recreate space smells. Particularly onboard the ISS, it's a really big deal if something inside the station ends up leaking or burning. And if you're operating something critical like an airlock and you start smelling something funny, that's definitely something to worry about. Here's an article from a couple years ago where the crew smelled something strange and ended up shutting down the entire ventilation system until they identified the odor: http://www.space-travel.com/reports/ISS_Goes_Into_Emergency_Mode_After_Chemical_Leak_999.html [space-travel.com]

Re:Just PR (1)

IMightB (533307) | more than 5 years ago | (#25404295)

Wouldn't the pressure differential guarantee that the *smell* stays outside? I mean it's not like space is going to "leak in" to the ISS, rather the ISS smell is going to go into space.

Re:Just PR (2, Insightful)

Anachragnome (1008495) | more than 5 years ago | (#25404041)

Bingo.

Could you imagine if humans lost the ability to smell smoke? A hell of a lot more of us(no pun intended) would burn to death in fires were it not for our ability to do so.

NASA simply realizes the importance of smell in many aspects, from diagnosis of a problem to the signaling of humans that a problem exists in the first place.

Astronaut A reenters the shuttle. Astronaut B smells something OTHER then the smell of space on the suit of astronaut A as he reenters. At this point it can be assumed it is time to take a closer look at the situation.

The point is that knowing what space smells like establishes a scent baseline allowing for better analysis of the situation.

Re:Just PR (2, Interesting)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 5 years ago | (#25404199)

Well, thanks to you, at least I'm not ignorant anymore. Actually, this makes a lot of sense to me, now. I take a train to work every day. Sometimes, when the engineer has to brake real hard, the breaks give off that familiar "burning your brakes" smell. One time I mentioned it to the conductor, when he was checking my ticket. He quipped:

Oh, that's nothing . . . a total brake failure smells entirely different. And you would notice it immediately . . . because I would not be checking tickets!"

Re:Just PR (2, Informative)

Framboise (521772) | more than 5 years ago | (#25404605)

Perhaps you didn't understand the same but the article doesn't say that they try to recreate the smelll within a spacecraft, but the smell of *space*.
Interplanetary or interstellar space is not empty but contains gas and dust particles. This medium is extraordinary dilute (typically 1-10^5 atoms/cm^3 and 99% of this is made of odorless hydrogen and helium). Despite this low concentration, accumulated over light-years this medium adds up to and makes structures like nebulae and dark clouds seen on telescopic pictures.
As I understand, the article describes the effort to recreate the smell of this dilute space stuff. In reality astronauts will never be able to smell it because the concentration is way too low. In comparison the air we breath contains about 10^20 molecules/cm^3.

Re:Just PR (1)

Dr.Pete (1021137) | more than 5 years ago | (#25407845)

Indeed. Around the lab, you smell things too. Does the air smell acrid? The house air is out and the floating tables have gone down. Does the air smell faintly rotten? There's vegetation in the laser cooling systems. Does the air smell like ozone? There's probably a short in the high voltage supply for the laser diodes. Burning cardboard? Some idiot has misaligned their laser and is burning a hole in their beam blocks. In complete agreement, people should never underestimate the power of smell, for ussing people, the surroundings or a mechanical/technological system.

Re:Just PR (1)

Sun.Jedi (1280674) | more than 5 years ago | (#25403531)

>These cannot be perceived directly by normal people.

So, kind of like tang [wikipedia.org] . I see a theme here.

It smells just like... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25402893)

Uranus.

The thing's hollow--it goes on forever--and (2, Funny)

cynical kane (730682) | more than 5 years ago | (#25403049)

it's full of smells!

In space... (2, Funny)

anomnomnomymous (1321267) | more than 5 years ago | (#25403065)

In space no one can hear you fart.


Wtf, so they're able to smell it now?!

Hmmmmm (2, Interesting)

Cap'nPedro (987782) | more than 5 years ago | (#25403159)

That's odd.... the things described as being space seem to smell exactly like Ozone.

How odd.

worst grade ever (2, Funny)

utopiandelusion (714882) | more than 5 years ago | (#25403181)

I give it an A minus....minus! - prof. wernstrom

Re:worst grade ever (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#25406059)

WoormStrom!

Ob. Quote (5, Funny)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#25403205)

Professor Hubert Farnsworth: Exactly. And now, Saturn.
Fry: Pine needles. Oh, man, this is great... hey, as long as you don't make me smell Uranus.
Leela: I don't get it.
Professor Hubert Farnsworth: I'm sorry, Fry, but astronomers renamed Uranus in 2620 to end that stupid joke once and for all.
Fry: Oh. What's it called now?
Professor Hubert Farnsworth: Urrectum. Here, let me locate it for you.
Fry: No, no, I, I think I'll just smell around a bit over here.

Re:Ob. Quote (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25404065)

What's sad is that the original name for the state of Washington was going to be Columbia, but they thought that would be too confusing with the District of Columbia, so they picked a different name.

Space BO! (1)

Kepesk (1093871) | more than 5 years ago | (#25403227)

So they want to recreate the smell of the international space station, a place where people work 12 hour days for 6 months on end with no showering facilities. Three guesses as to what that smells like, but you'll only need one.

Re:Space BO! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25404135)

Umm they do have showers on the ISS. It's the orbiter that doesn't have a shower, but they only have to go for 1-2 weeks or so.

Re:Space BO! (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 5 years ago | (#25404137)

Backed up toilet?

smelloscope (1)

Verdatum (1257828) | more than 5 years ago | (#25403245)

wow, 20 comments, and not one of them a reference to Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth's Smelloscope? I'm impressed with everyone restraining their geekdom.

Just as long (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25403289)

as you don't make me smell Uranus!

First (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25403313)

To post the word Smelloscope, anyway.

Im dissapointed in you slashdot. Such an easy set up for a futurama joke.

I Made a Shirt About This (2, Funny)

pete-classic (75983) | more than 5 years ago | (#25403335)

Back in February [hutnick.com]

-Peter

No one can hear you scream, but... (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 5 years ago | (#25403477)

Well, if in space no one can hear you scream when the alien attacks, at least they can tell that you've shit your pants.

DUPE (1)

shentino (1139071) | more than 5 years ago | (#25403891)

already posted a loong time ago

Re:DUPE (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25573285)

Whew! Thank god you told us. Don't know what I would have done without such an informative post.

Mir?!?! Gross!!!! (1)

jkinney3 (535278) | more than 5 years ago | (#25403955)

From what I've read, Mir is NOT something I want to smell. Several sweaty guys, cabbage, beans and no good way to deodorize the place. Yuck!

On Your Face +1, PatRIOTic (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25404115)

The cologne. In a Guantanomo cell near you.

Cordially,
K. Trout

ozone? (1)

SkyMunky (249995) | more than 5 years ago | (#25405129)

I am reminded of smells I used to experience when doing juvenile experiments with high voltage...could it be the smell of ozone?

Re:ozone? (1)

Revenger75 (1246176) | more than 5 years ago | (#25407645)

If it is, NASA could just put their astronauts in a room with a Sharper Image 'Ionic Breeze' air purifier.

In Space, No One Can Hear You Fart (1)

bugeaterr (836984) | more than 5 years ago | (#25405617)

And whoever smelt it, is probably undergoing explosive decompression.

Possible Explanation (1)

cychem1 (942136) | more than 5 years ago | (#25467469)

Just a theory but the space suit probably smells that way because is it was bombard by cosmic rays, as well as all other particles interacting with the suit while EVA.

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