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NASA’s “chief sniffer” smells everything, this has included bibles, family photos

It’s so annoying when someone unwraps a sandwich and stinks up the whole subway – usually, something that has onions on it will do the trick.

Try imagining how you would deal with different odors if you were orbiting above Earth inside a space station, where opening a window is not an option.

Odors that are noxious can be hazardous to astronauts. An acrid stench that was on board the Soyuz-21 ended the Soviet mission in 1976 because the odor was so unbearable to the astronauts.

To be able to prevent such bad luck, NASA employs specialists that can test all the materials and components that are needed in a spacecraft. Possibly one of the most well known members of that team would be George Aldrich, a man who has a special nose.



His job title is Chemical Specialist at NASA’s White Sand Test Facility located in New Mexico. There he has sniffed hundreds of smell requests from NASA. Other than smelling parts of the spacecraft, he also checks personal items of the astronauts.

This has included bibles, family photos, and parts that were for building a model ship inside a bottle. He smells everything.

He has used his sense of smell for 38 years to smell items before they go into space. What makes him really important to NASA is that he uses his sense of smell to help protect the astronauts from obnoxious odors while they are in space. He feels like he is a bodyguard for the astronauts – it’s like taking a bullet for the team.

Because of Aldrich’s work, astronauts are able to work relatively fragrance-free. This leaves their noses able to notice something else. The smell of space inside a spacecraft is different from the outside.

Sagittarius B2 (second from top) the pictures ESO
Sagittarius B2 (second from top) the pictures ESO

The International Space Station science officer Don Pettit explained in a fascinating post what that smells like. Each time when he re-pressed the airlock, opening the hatch to two tired workers, a peculiar odor tickled his olfactory sense. At first, he could not quite place what it was. He thinks that it could come from the air ducts that re-pressed the compartment.

Then he noticed that this smell was on their suits, gloves, tools, and helmets. It had been more pronounced on fabrics than it was on plastic or metal surfaces. He stated that it’s hard to describe this smell exactly. The best description he was able to come up with was a metallic smell, but it was a pleasant metallic sensation.

It reminded him of his college summers where he labored for several hours with an arc welding torch, repairing heavy equipment for a small logging outfit. It reminded him of the sweet smell of welding fumes – this is what space smells like, The Daily Dot reported

Here is another NASA story from us: 16th Century French artifacts found near NASA debris off the coast of Florida

Scientists examine the chemical compounds that are floating through the corners of space and can predict what other odors we could encounter.

At Discover, Veronique Greenwood reported that a dust cloud located in the center of our galaxy called Sagittarius B may smell like raspberries and rum.


Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News