Ever wondered what space smells like?
Well, according to those that have been, it’s a bit burned, a little like gunpowder, has some rum notes, and, if you’re astronaut Tony Antonelli, it’s “a smell that’s different than anything else.”
Back in 2008, NASA actually talked with a chemist and director of a fragrance company Steven Pearce to recreate that ‘space’ smell in a laboratory.
“The suggestion to us has been that it’s about creating realism for their training,” Pearce explained at the time.
“So, they train the astronauts in their suits by putting them in big water tanks to simulate the loss of gravity and so it’s just about making sure the whole thing is a realistic training exercise.”
But according to the Atlantic, apparently NASA never asked Pearce to complete the commission.
So, the scent of space went cold, until a company (who are not affiliated with NASA), decided that they wanted the smell it for themselves.
“With a bit of luck (and a beautiful thing called a FOIA request), we found our lead,” the company, called Eau de Space writes on their Kickstarter page.
“Two exclusive commercial contracts later, a secret shelved formula based on verified astronaut accounts, a very large minimum order of fragrance… and we’re all off smelling space!”
The Kickstarter has absolutely taken off – having made nearly US$450,000 – over 100 times their goal at the time of writing, with a month left to go.
They’re also trying to get the fragrances into schools to increase interest in STEM. You can even register your own school to become part of the program.
And why not? Who wouldn’t want to smell the smell of space?
But just like astronaut ice cream, this is undoubtedly a gimmick, if an incredibly fun one.
Space itself, a big vacuum with a few hydrogen atoms floating around, has no air to smell, and would have the scent of your own demise if you tried to take a whiff.
But there are a few bits of actual science in here that are quite interesting. Those hydrogen atoms are polyclcic aromatic hydrocarbons to be exact, and they create the smell of burning you get when you leave your toast cooking for too long. They make up coal, oil, and the burned bit on your food – and they’re also flung into space by dying stars.
When the International Space Station astronauts return from a spacewalk, if they have these compounds on them, they might get a whiff of the hydrocarbons and get a nice smell of burned metal and barbeque.
Another explanation for the smell astronauts have experienced is a bit more mundane – that their reentry into the space cabin after a space walk is causing oxidation and creating ozone – not exactly as sexy as ‘star stuff’, but is said to smell like burning wire.
On top of that, returning to an enclosed space after smelling something else (in the case of astronauts probably their own sweat) for hours, the ISS might end up having a bit of a weird odour.
But it is a fun project, and one that we hope will inspire lots of kids to become a scientist, engineer or astronaut, and possibly, one day, verify the results.
If you are planning to wear it as a fragrance though, we’ll just note that Eau de Space are not planning any further releases post Kickstarter, and they’re not giving out samples to journalists to have a whiff of and write about before the campaign is over.
So although we can’t give you a first-hand account, considering how astronauts have described the smell in the past, we reckon the ‘scent of space’ might make you smell like a hamburger, a NASCAR championship, or something else that was recently on fire.
Mmmmm, burned space.
You can visit Eau de Space’s Kickstarter here.