ISS Science Officer Don Pettit assists STS-113 spacewalker
Space Chronicles #4
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ISS Science Officer Don Pettit
Smell of Space
have experienced traveling into space. Even fewer have experienced
the smell of space. Now this sounds strange, that a vacuum could
have a smell and that a human being could live to smell that smell.
It seems about as improbable as listening to sounds in space, yet
space has a definite smell. Being creatures of an atmosphere, we
can only smell space indirectly. Sort of like the way a pit viper
smells by waving its tongue in the air and thenpressing it to the
roof of its mouth where sensors process the molecules that have
been adsorbed onto the waggling appendage. I had the pleasure of
operating the airlock for two of my crewmates while they went on
several space walks. Each time, when I repressed the airlock, opened
the hatch and welcomed two tired workers inside, a peculiar odor
tickled my olfactory senses. At first I couldn't quite place it.
It must have come from the air ducts that re-pressed the compartment.
Then I noticed that this smell was on their suit, helmet, gloves,
and tools. It was more pronounced on fabrics than on metal or plastic
surfaces. It is hard to describe this smell; it is definitely not
the olfactory equivalent to describing the palette sensations of
some new food as "tastes like chicken." The best description I can
come up with is metallic; a rather pleasant sweet metallic sensation.
It reminded me of my college summers where I labored for many hours
with an arc welding torch repairing heavy equipment for a small
logging outfit. It reminded me of pleasant sweet smelling welding
fumes. That is the smell of space.