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NASA attempting to re-create the smell of space

July 23, 2012|By Thomas H. Maugh II | Los Angeles Times
  • Russia's Mir space station as seen from the space shuttle.
Russia's Mir space station as seen from the space shuttle. (NASA / Getty Images )

Space may be a near-vacuum, but apparently it has a distinct odor, and now NASA has hired a scent chemist to try to reproduce that characteristic smell.  The odor might prove intriguing to visitors at exhibitions, such as when the space shuttle Endeavour is exhibited at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, but NASA has a more practical purpose in mind: to acclimate potential astronauts before they make their first visits to orbit.

For a short article in the Atlantic, author Megan Garber talked to several astronauts, who noted that food, body odors and other expected scents are present, of course. And Russia's Mir space station, moreover, was permeated by the smell of vodka, which cosmonauts brought into orbit with them.

But beyond such unsurprising smells, there is also the smell of ozone and a slightly metallic, perhaps sweet-smelling odor on space suits and other equipment that has been exposed to space itself -- perhaps the result of radiation or space dust. Scent chemist Steve Pearce is talking to astronauts and attempting to re-create the scent, just as he did with the odor of the Mir space station, an installation he called "Impossible Smells."

Will we all get to smell it? We'll have to wait and see.

LATimesScience@gmail.com

Twitter/@LATMaugh

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