Q&A: What Does Space Smell Like?

Have you ever thought about what space could smell like? Describing the stench of space as “sulfurous” and “metallic,” astronauts have reported scents similar to seared steak, hot metal, and gunpowder. There is no firm consensus, but these accounts can agree on one thing: space stinks.

Particles in space may mix with air in the space shuttle to create a distinct “space” smell. Courtesy of Acclaim Images.

According to astronauts, the smell is not apparent when wearing a spacesuit: an odor only emerges after removing their suits in the safety of the space shuttle. Scientists think that this alien aroma may arise because particles outside in space continue to cling to spacesuits inside the space shuttle. These particles, likely polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that form in space during combustion after a star’s death, mix with air in the space shuttle to create a distinctive smell.

The odor has become so notorious that NASA is trying to recreate the smell of space back on Earth for astronaut-training purposes. With the help of a scent chemist who recreated the scent of the Mir space station for an art exhibition, NASA hopes the scent of space itself will be recreated just as successfully. Until then, the smell remains just another elusive mystery of outer space.