Space Has a Smell and It's... Stinky

Wednesday, 11 June 2014 - 11:11AM
Weird Science
Wednesday, 11 June 2014 - 11:11AM

After returning to Earth after months on the International Space Station, NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins answered his curious fan's questions during an "Ask me Anything" forum on 


Credit: NASA


The questions inspired him to write about an interesting and unusual topic: the smell of outer space. And according to Hopkins, space stinks!


"Space has a smell," Hopkins wrote. " "And I don't mean inside the space station. When a visiting vehicle docks with the space station there is a 'space' between the two vehicles. Once the pressure is equalized and the hatch is opened, you have this metallic ionization-type smell. It's quite unique and very distinct."


But Hopkins isn't the first space-goer to notice this distinct scent. Astronauts have long been trying to describe the evasive smell. Many have characterized it as similar to "seared steak," "hot metal," or "welding fumes." In 2008, NASA even talked about the possibility of recreating it for training purposes with scent chemist Steve Pearce. 


Seared steak and hot metal...  yum! 


"Space", according to astronaut Tony Antonelli, "definitely has a smell that's different than anything else."


Thomas Jones takes his turn and describes this "distinct odor of ozone, [...this] faint acrid smell" as "sulfurous," similar to gunpowder. 


"Wonder-astronaut" Don Pettit related the smell back to his time as welder.  


"It is hard to describe this smell," Pettit said. "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; 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."


So for those of you who assumed that space's sh*t don't stink, you may want to think again (unless, like Petitt, you enjoy the smell of welding fumes).

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