This man has one of the strangest jobs in the world – he sniffs everything that goes into space – including CDs and trainers.
George Aldrich works for Nasa, and at their White Sands Test facility his nose reigns supreme – he is their chief sniffer.
“What makes me important to NASA is that I use my sense of smell to protect the astronauts from obnoxious odours in space,” says George. “All the materials that go inside the capsule the astronauts have to go through certain tests So I’m in charge of doing toxicity and odour testing. I’ve used my nose for 38 years to smell stuff before it goes into space.”
Incredibly, the success of entire missions depend on Nasa’s No 1 nasalnaut. Because if George’s nose isn’t performing at the very peak of its abilities – the consequences are serious.
“Here on the ground if there’s some kind of a foul odour, maybe someone was in the bathroom or cut an onion open, it eventually airs out. What is causing that smell to go away is really the dilution of additional air coming in…..but when we’re in the space station or shuttle, there is no additional air, we don’t open a window and get some fresh air in there,” says Susannah Harper the manager of the nasal lab. “What we have to do is here on the ground verify we’re not sending odours up there because once they’re up there, they’re stuck there.”
In 1976, the stench on board a Soviet spacecraft was so bad, that the cosmonauts got sick and the entire mission had to be abandoned a month early.
“It’s very important to control the materials we put inside a space capsule so that we don’t create odours and have to abort a mission, we’ve spent millions of dollars to get this craft off the ground,” says George.
Sometimes, ordinary objects exposed to the higher temperatures of the space station can start to smell…so George has to test them.
“One of our astronauts wanted to take up his CD collection of 20 cds and so NASA had some concern about having that many CDs in a confined space or area so we tested 20 cds – it wound up being fairly toxic,” says George.
So far, the worst US astronauts have had to deal with has been a burning fridge motor, some powerful aftershave, Velcro on a washbag and ink that caused blisters in their noses.
George has carried out over 800 major smell tests for Nasa-and for the foreseeable future – Houston definitely doesn’t have a problem.
Oh, and in case you were wondering – yes, he does have a favourite smell…
“I guess jokingly I always say my favourite smell is money,” says George, “I don’t have any of it but that’s my favourite smell.”