NASA Recruits Chemist To Recreate Space’s Stink

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (CBS Tampa) – Astronauts are often asked about what it’s like in space.  They’ll be asked about the food and toilets, but it’s not every day they’re asked for their opinion on what space smells like.

Astronauts have often compared the smell to “hot metal,” a “seared steak,” and even “arc welding on their motorbike,” according to Time. Particles from space latch onto spacesuits during spacewalks and can be smelled when they return into their vehicle or space station.

Now, NASA wants to recreate the smell to help train astronauts on what they will face in space.  To help with the effort, NASA has recruited Steve Pearce, a chemist based in Ipswich, England. Pearce believes that from the consistent descriptions from astronauts that “the sensation is caused by some high-energy vibrations in particles brought back inside which mix with the air,” according to Time.

Recently, ethyl formate was discovered to be in space’s dust particles, the same chemical that gives raspberries their flavor.  That gives Pearce a place to start when he’s recreating space stench.

NASA asked Pearce to help with their stinky task because of his work bringing back the smell of the of the MIR space station for an art show.

In an interview with Discovery, Pearce said that MIR’s air filters had a system to recycle air and water.  But the designers for that system forgot about the vodka that the cosmonauts would bring aboard the space station.

“The metabolites cosmonauts breathed out from drinking it plus perspiration affected the filters,” Pearce told Discovery. He added that its metabolites would “lead to the formation of some pretty unpleasant-smelling materials.”

MIR smelled like “sweaty feet and stale body odor mix that odor with nail polish remover and gasoline… then you get close!”

Surprisingly, Pearce is doing this job pro bono for NASA.

“They asked if I would do it out of love rather than financial reward,” Pearce told Discovery.

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