“It’s the smell,” these are the immortal words that Agent Smith says to Morpheus to show his disgust with the electronic synthesized world the machines have created in the movie The Matrix. There is something about the human scent mixed with the non-organic world that had Agent Smith seething to get out of the Matrix. But there could be something to those famous words; scientists have concluded that space smells weird.
Astronauts have described the smell of space upon their return to Earth as the smell of “seared steak,” or “hot metal.” Others have described it as metallic and sulfurous, almost like gunpowder. If space is a vacuum, then what gives it a distinct, almost objectionable smell?
Researchers have discovered that smell is not so much the space around an astronaut; it’s the astronauts themselves. There’s a distinct smell that is created when an astronaut moves in space that results in a “high-energy vibrations in particles brought back inside which mix with the air.”
NASA wants to re-create that smell and sensation on Earth as an effort to train new astronauts on space missions. It would be one less thing that would “shock” their system to help them adapt to working in space better. NASA has hired Scent Chemist Steve Pearce, as he is the authority on space smells after creating an art installation called “Impossible Smells,” which showcased the various smells on the space station MIR.
Re-creating Russian cosmonaut smells was not an easy undertaking, as cosmonauts tend to bring vodka with them to the space station. He states,
Just imagine sweaty feet and stale body odor, mix that odor with nail polish remover and gasoline … then you get close!
This has got to be one of the grossest training exercises in NASA history. Who would’ve thought space could be so disgusting?