Another Olfactory Facet of Outer Space: A Whiff of Vacuum is the Next Big Trend {The 5th Sense in the News}

Astronaut Michael Fincke on March 10, courtesy of Nasa via AP

A new olfactory frontier lies in capturing the scents of outer space. If fragrance has always thrived on the lure of mystery and half-unveiled truths, galactic scents will be one significant and sophisticated source of inspiration for the perfumery of the 21st century.

In the past, Shiseido attempted to recreate the scent of a rose flown aboard a space shuttle with Zen (white bottle) as in a poetic reminiscence of Le Petit Prince by Saint-Exupery; Omega Ingredients more recently was working on a reconstitution of the smells of outer space for astronaut-training purposes declaring the main olfactory notes to be welded hot metal and fried steak; an exhibition on Extinct and Impossible Smells aimed to offer the imagined scent of the surface of the sun; Stephen Jones with Comme des Garçons offered last year a "violet hit by a meteorite" that smelled in part of dusty minerals; now, we are offered a more elaborate description of further other-wordly olfactory facets...

"Like ozone, or gunpowder

Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, who launched to the station aboard Discovery and stayed behind when it left to join the outpost's crew, said he also could smell the odd odor that wafted in from outside the station. But both Antonelli and Wakata, who helped Discovery's spacewalkers climb in and out of their spacesuits, could not put words to the distinctive out-of-this-world scent.

Former NASA astronaut Thomas Jones, a veteran of three spacewalks before retiring from spaceflying in 2001, thinks the odor could stem from atomic oxygen that clings to spacesuit fabric.

"When you repressurize the airlock and get out of your suit, there is a distinct odor of ozone, a faint acrid smell," Jones told, adding that the smell is also similar to burnt gunpowder or the ozone smell of electrical equipment. "It's not noticeable inside the suit. The suit smells like plastic inside."

The smell, he adds, only occurs on a shuttle or the space station after a spacewalk and is unmistakable to astronauts working with the spacesuits and equipment that was used in the vacuum of space.

"In those tight spaces, your nose gets right next to the fabric," Jones said. "I like to think of it as getting a whiff of vacuum!"

Read more in Space Smells Funny, Astronauts Say...

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