Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.
- Captain James T. Kirk, start of every episode of the original TV series 'Star Trek'.
It's Earth Day today, and in doing my bit for the environment I thought I would ‘recycle’ a post I started last year, I got sidetracked and it has been languishing in my draft folder!
Well, I shall now ‘dust’ it off and up-cycle it, as now seems a more auspicious time to discuss the smell of (outer) Space, especially as I am off to a Scratch and Sniff event tomorrow (Tuesday 23rd) called ‘The Scent of Space’, with Dr Marek Kukula of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. So exciting!
We shall be boldly going where no perfumista has been, shooting stars and asteroids permitting, we are on a quest to seek perfumes inspired by the cosmos and kicking up some moondust in the pursuit of some funky space odours.
Anyway, back at basecamp, my day-dreaming on this nebulous topic was triggered by my re-discovery of Space Dust**, (the popping candy) in a sweet corner of Covent Garden, namely, ‘Hope and Greenwood’. Oh, how I LOVED this stuff, we would have school-ground competitions of how many packets we could pour onto our tongues without suffering excrutiating lacerations!
** Disappointingly, it has now been ‘rebranded’ as Fizz Wizz, which sounds more like a joke sweet!
Anyway, I digress, back to SMELL!
So, I got to thinking, what would Space smell like? Arduous research ensued to get into the (Twilight) zone.. I watched lots of YouTube clips: Space 1999, Star Trek, Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, The Jetsons, Ultraman (terrible + funny) – am method like that! How could you bottle the miasmic odour of the cosmic vastness that is planets, stars, black holes, super novae, asteroids, meteors and rockets?
Explosive aromas in Space
My initial thoughts would be sulphur - all those gases and explosions, then metallic, sort of hot metal + iron filings and of course smoke; gunpowder and perhaps a dusty, earthy note, baked + dry?
If I was to concoct something from natural botanicals, I would maybe pick out the following, initially:
- Mitti Attar – baked earth
- Vetiver – smoke (and baked ham, as one student voiced – makes sense later on!)
- Solomon Seal (Polygonum odoratum) – we smelt this at Perfume Lovers London supplied by Laboratoire Monique Remy – it's dry, claustrophobic and feels dusty in my throat
- Juniper – a hint of metallic
- Blackcurrant bud – metallic hint
- Asafoetida - sulphurous
However, I went off exploring lots of geeky journals on Space, Discovery + Astronomy and astro-physics (my addiction to Big Bang Theory is still not enough of an education for all this research!) and came up with some smell-tastic stuff, namely that astronauts reported that when coming back from space walks and taking off their gear, they catch an odour of 'charred steak' and 'something metallic'. A piece in Discovery Magazine, July 2012 included this reported experience by astronaut Don Pettit nearly 10 years ago:
“Each time, when I repressed the airlock, opened the hatch and welcomed two tired workers inside, a peculiar odor tickled my olfactory senses. At first I couldn’t quite place it. It must have come from the air ducts that re-pressed the compartment. Then I noticed that this smell was on their suit, helmet, gloves, and tools. It was more pronounced on fabrics than on metal or plastic surfaces. It is hard to describe this smell; 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; a 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.”
It seems these smells are (chemistry alert) ‘polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons’; compounds that form during combustion, which occurs at the death of stars (..and another one bites the dust … sad face).
However, in 2009, a survey reported that a substance was found in a giant dust cloud ‘Sagittarious B2’ at the heart of the Milky Way, it was called Ethyl formate and is the chemical responsible for the flavour of raspberries and it shares the distinguishing characteristic of smelling like rum!! Yo ho ho - that's a Summer cocktail in the making.
So, there we have it, so far, Space smells like steak, gunpowder, hot metal, raspberries and rum – simples! Rather like a lot of Summer Barbeques I’ve been to – in distant past of course, as we have had no decent Summers for an aeon!
Ok, back to botanicals, I think I will add some Raspberry absolute to my list, no Rum available, but I do have Cognac absolute, it will perhaps form my inspiration to create a smell in homage to Barbarella, hmmm, now what would Jane Fonda wear perfume-wise that is, (clothes-wise not a lot in this Space strip trailer)!
Check out this Barbarella trailer (a Space strip):
Here’s hoping we discover some rather more wearable concoctions tomorrow evening, anyone for Alien? I shall beam back with a report.
In the meantime “Live Long, smell good and prosper” and laugh at this novelty song, Star Trekkin' by The Firm - mad!!
“It was a texture. The blackness was so intense.” - Charles Duke