Did you know that outer space has a smell? As I look at the NASA photos of spacewalkers, also known as folks on EVAs (Extra-vehicular activity), I wondered what they experience out there in the void. Here are some things I found.

On space smell:

Some people call it kind of ozone-like. I wasn’t sure what ozone was supposed to smell like, but it’s kind of smoky and a little harsh, bitter-smelling… Korzun said it’s kind of like a smell from a gun, right after you fire the shot. I think it kind of has almost a bitter kind of smell in addition to being smoky and burned. — Peggy Whitson, ISS

“When we come in from a space walk, this smell of space is what we’re calling it up here,” she says, “and we’ve tried to decide what that really smells like and its kind of a mild, to me at least, a mild form of when your car is overheating, that kind of smell. It’s not unpleasant but its definitely there, and that totally surprised me.” — Nicole Stott, ISS

What is feels like to spacewalk:

Flying in space here is phenomenal. It’s amazing just to feel your body adapt to floating around in zero (gravity). But it was really, truly amazing to me to do a spacewalk, especially at the end of the (station’s robotic arm) as Valery was swinging me around. — Peggy Whitson, ISS

Gosh, I’m not sure how to describe it. I was there for the birth of all three of my children. I did the first F-18 intercept of a Bear bomber off the coast of Canada. I represented Canada in a bunch of different levels, including as a fighter pilot. I was a test pilot doing all sorts of very fascinating, challenging, brand new work. I went to Mir, I went to the ISS. But nothing compares to going outside for a spacewalk. Nothing compares to being alone in the Universe; to that moment of opening the hatch and pulling yourself outside into the Universe.

Sometimes you’re driving on a mountain road, it’s slippery and you’re doing a bunch of curves and you don’t really see anything because you have a cliff falling away on one side and another cliff up on the other. But suddenly you come around a corner and you say, “Oh wow!” And there you’ve got the whole valley in front of you, or they make one of those nice pullovers where you can stop and look out, and you do, and you stop and you get out of your car and walk over to the edge and you see where you are, where all those little myopic turns have taken you.

A spacewalk is very much like that in that the opening of the hatch is probably step 750 of the day. And steps 1 through 749 were all boring and minuscule and each one was on a checklist and you had to do every one right, so you were very painstaking. But suddenly you do this one step, and suddenly you are in a place that you hadn’t conceived how beautiful this could be. How stupefying this could be. And by stupefying I mean, it stops your thought.

You’ve probably heard me say this before, but I knew I couldn’t keep notes up there and I would forget stuff so I sorta resolved to myself that I would verbalize and attempt to, as eloquently as I could, express what I was feeling and what I was seeing so that later I could listen to the recordings of it and remember, and not have missed such an amazing experience. And yet when I listen to the transcripts of what I said, most of it was just, “Wow!” It was so pathetic! But the experience was just overwhelming! — Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, STS-100 mission in 2001

Um, I kind of think this guy was cued to on some of his lines…

“I felt superb,” answered Zhai Zhigang, who carried out about 25 minutes of extra-vehicular activity (EVA) about 343 km above the earth after floating out of the Shenzhou-7 cabin on Saturday afternoon.

“The process of taking on the Feitian spacesuit went smooth,” said Zhai, looking confident and radiant on the screen at the BACC. “In the vast space, I felt proud of our motherland.” — Zhai Zhigang, Shenzhou-7

What’s a space suit like:

The space suit, I think it weighs about 300 pounds. We have a white space suit and the reason for keeping it white is so that most of the heat is reflected off of us. What happens is, when we are facing the sun the temperature is about 150 degrees on the front side of our space suit and it is about – 150 degrees on the backside of our space suit. We basically have an ethylene glycol, very much like what flows in the radiator of your car, going through our underwear. In fact we have very fancy underwear that keeps us not too hot and not too cold. We can actually control the temperature of our suit with a little knob that is on the front of our suit and keep it exactly the way we want to have it. If you’re working hard you often turn that temperature down and if you’re waiting for your buddy to finish something and you’re just floating in space waiting, you will actually turn the temperature up because you’ll get a little bit too cold. When the sun goes down as you orbit onto the dark side of the earth, it can get very cold and we often at that time will turn on heaters on inside our gloves so that our fingers don’t get cold because we don’t actually have any fluid flowing around our hands it stops at our wrists basically. So, we have electrical heaters to keep our hands warm and that is very important because the dexterity of our hands is what allows us to do our job on our EVA, Extra Vehicular Activity. — Steve MacLean, Space Shuttle Columbia

And finally:


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