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Eau de Space: If you want to smell like the cosmos, your olfactory dream has landed

By Elizabeth Rayne
Eau du Space

Burnt steak. Raspberries. Ozone. Sulfuric fumes. These are just some of the things that astronauts believe they smell clinging to their spacesuits and helmets after they finally touch down on Earth.

Obsessed with what space actually smells like, chemist and Omega Ingredients founder Steve Pearce spent years trying to figure out that peculiar scent that came back to our planet with those spacesuits. He was actually under a NASA contract to bottle that smell. Was it more ozonic? Metallic? Smoky? Even gourmand? Whatever it was couldn't possibly be floral. Looks like he finally got it four years and one Kickstarter later, because he’s taken one small step for fragrance but one giant leap for fragrance-kind. Eau de Space has landed.

So … what does it smell like? Former ISS science officer Don Pettit gave some insight in a 2002 NASA blog post.

“The best description I can come up with is metallic; a rather pleasant sweet metallic sensation … pleasant sweet-smelling welding fumes,” Pettit said. “That is the smell of space.”

Pearce originally snagged the NASA contract at a scent exhibition. He had somehow managed to recreate the smell of the inside of the Mir space station without ever leaving the atmosphere.

"This was about considering the likely chemistry involved and recreating that aroma characteristic of body odour in the confines of the enclosed cabin and the metabolites from vodka consumption," Pearce told SYFY WIRE, referring to that project.

After asking astronauts their take on what their spacesuits smelled like, he got answers ranging from hot metal to ozone to gunpowder to fried steak. With those olfactory interpretations, Pearce took it from there to formulate something that would echo the scent of the void. It was originally created as a NASA training tool to eliminate any surprises during an astronaut’s first time in space — but NASA couldn't keep this a secret.

"I received transcripts of interviews with those astronauts that had walked in space, which included descriptions of what they experienced as an unusual odour when they returned to the safety of the capsule or Space Shuttle Cabin," Pearce said of how his nose started to imagine the smell. "They were very consistent in their descriptions of Hot Metal, Burnt Meat, Welding of Metal.I was able to use my experience and knowledge of flavor, fragrance and aroma chemistry to work with the descriptions from the astronauts and chose the most appropriate materials."

Has anyone else come close? Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab had been working on a prototype called “FORMULA FFSS8: Spaceship” that smells exactly what you would imagine the inside of a spaceship to smell like, even if you’ve never actually been in one. Unfortunately, the final version of that hasn’t been released (yet), and nobody knows if it ever will be a reality. Any smell geeks out there will want to keep a nostril out.

"As with all this type of creative development it is then about finding the most appropriate levels of materials to work together to produce the final perceived fragrance," Pearce said.

Eau de Space successfully launched on Kickstarter, with more backers every minute. You can snag your own bottle (which has an incredibly cool minimalist design of an astronaut on the label) for a pledge of $29 or more, and a bottle will also go to a local K-12 STEM program.

Watch it take off.