Path to Mars #966: Smells Like Mars Spirit

Miniature Rose Astroculture by NASA

Have you ever wondered what things smell like in space? George Aldrich has. His job as NASA’s chemical specialist is to smell everything that goes into space. Call him a Nasalnaut, Nostril-Damus or Chief Sniffer, but the job remains the same – ensuring the olfactory comfort and safety of each and every astronaut. His is an amusing yet integral position in the space industry.

If you are more of a spa artisan than chemist, you may be interested in engaging your nose in slightly less offensive space scents. In 1998, International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) teamed up with Wisconsin Center for Space Automation and Robotics (WCSAR) to develop a plant growth chamber called ASTROCULTURE. A miniature rose was flown aboard a 10-day mission of the Shuttle Discovery (STS-95). Four samples were taken from the rose during this time; back on earth, these scent molecules were analyzed. The final resulting scent produced was incorporated into “Zen” by the Japanese company Shiseido (one of my favorites, I admit).

Shisedo Zen

It’s hard to believe fifteen years have passed since this sweet space experiment. While I haven’t come across many tales of flowers in space, there seems to be a recent cultivation of olfactory artists  bubbling up eau d’espace here on earth.

In 2009, an exhibition was held at the Reg Vardy Gallery in Sunderland, England entitled “If There Ever Was: An Exhibition of Extinct and Impossible Smells”. Notable among the many ephemeral creations were three space-related scents. “The Surface of the Sun” created by Geza Schoen, “The Smell of Mir” by Steve Pearce, and “The Smell of Meteorite” by Mark Buxton.

Scratch N' Sniff Space included. Image from amazon.com/uk

The exhibition was available for a limited time as a scratch and sniff book through amazon.com/uk; more detailed descriptions of the “impossible smells” can be read as a pdf here.

Steve Pearce, CEO and Founder of Omega Ingredients, must have found his calling in creating the smell of Mir, because he went on to create “Moondust fragrance” for the 2010 exhibition “Moon, Scratch and Sniff”, a commission for the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.

Moon, Scratch and Sniff

This took part in the Republic of the Moon exhibition held in London, UK from Dec 2011 -Feb 2012. Audiences participated in the scent-immersion by entering a chamber, where a lone astronaut tended rock garden, spraying it with the gunpowder-like scent. Now that’s good 4-D space theatre. 3-D is so 2010.

If your preferred scent is something less literally connected with space, and more along the lines of space-inspired designer fragrances, you’re in luck. There are hundreds of perfumes out there that promise to leave you sun-kissed or moon-bathed. Among some of the more popular couture perfumes are Magical Moon by Hanae Mori, Sun Moon Stars by Karl Lagerfeld, or the wildly inventive “Millinery” by the collaborative team of Stephen Jones and Comme des Garcons. While not immediately apparent as a space scent, it has been described as having the air of a “violet hit by a meteorite”. Wow.

But would it smell as sweet?

I don’t know about you, but I’d love a whiff of the Rose Nebula. How about getting out those essential oils and whipping up a bottle or two?

Blast Off!

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About Renate Pohl

Theatre Designer, Space and Stained Glass Artist, Writer.
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