Saturday, March 28, 2009

Space Smells Funny: Near Earth, Anyway

"Space Smells Funny, Astronauts Say" (March 27, 2009)

"The smell of space will linger for the seven astronauts aboard the space shuttle Discovery long after they return to Earth on Saturday.

" 'One thing I've heard people say before, but it wasn't so obvious, was the smell right when you open up that hatch,' Discovery pilot Dominic 'Tony' Antonelli said after a March 21 spacewalk. 'Space definitely has a smell that's different than anything else.'

"The odor, Antonelli said, could be smelled once spacewalkers locked the station airlock's outer hatch and reopened the inner door...."

One possibility is that ISS crews are on duty up there a little too long, and are imagining things. Next thing you know, they'll be seeing pink elephants dancing on the solar panels.

I don't think so.

" 'Former NASA astronaut Thomas Jones, a veteran of three spacewalks before retiring from spaceflying in 2001, thinks the odor could stem from atomic oxygen that clings to spacesuit fabric.

" 'When you repressurize the airlock and get out of your suit, there is a distinct odor of ozone, a faint acrid smell,' Jones told, adding that the smell is also similar to burnt gunpowder or the ozone smell of electrical equipment. 'It's not noticeable inside the suit. The suit smells like plastic inside.' "

I wouldn't have imagined space - even in near-Earth orbit - to have an odor, but I think Jones has a point. The smell and its origin could be studied - which I think is a little more likely these days.

At least, I hope that scientists have gotten past the 'good old days' of defaming people who observed phenomena that didn't fit what the researchers' published papers said was so.

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