What does a new spacesuit and breathing apparatus smell like when you first put it on?

The natural progression of the question is does the scent wear off and does it get to smelling stagnant and nasty in there after a while.

  • 8
    $\begingroup$ ........Victory! $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 22:48

2 Answers 2


Don't you just love that new spacesuit smell?

Outgassing of volatiles from new materials has been a recognized phenomenon for a long time. All of the materials used in a space suit are selected to be able to withstand vacuum without changing composition or emitting volatiles that might be present when they are new. Astronauts wear special undergarments in a suit. Next to the skin they wear long johns made of a spandex material that wicks up perspiration and ports it into a water reclamation systems. It sounds a bit like a stilsuit, a la the book "Dune" by Frank Herbert.

The undergarment also has a network of tubes that circulate water to keep the astronaut cooled.

The astronaut wears a "maximum absorption garment" under the undergarment. It's basically an adult diaper. Even in space, if you gotta go, you gotta go.

This means that the smelliest part of the space suit comes out at the end of the EVA. The undergarment is cleaned before it's reused, the, ahem, "maximum absorption garment" goes into the trash, and the suit itself gets appropriate maintenance. This means that by next usage, the suit ensemble is pretty odor neutral.

In Robert Heinlein's book "Have Spacesuit - Will Travel", a teenager wins a used spacesuit in a contest. When he receives it, it reeks of body odor. This was one of Heinlein's novels for a juvenile audience, but his description of the spacesuit is worth reading.

  • $\begingroup$ Links to sources or old 'nauts' stories would be very awesome and welcome. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 24, 2015 at 7:22
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ The Shuttle era NASA EVA checklist "Post EVA" section 9 includes suit cleaning steps including "Wipe LTA crotch and HUT armpit areas with stericide (in EMU Servicing Kit)" nasa.gov/centers/johnson/pdf/492872main_EVA_G_H_20.pdf $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 24, 2015 at 17:23
  • $\begingroup$ @DeerHunter I'm pretty sure that all of Robert Heinlein's material is still under copyright, but you can find a synopsis and a place to buy the book "Have Spacesuit - Will Travel" at this link $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 24, 2015 at 20:22
  • $\begingroup$ @HowardMiller - Heinlein wasn't an astronaut or a spacesuit technician, hence not a reliable first-hand source. OrganicMarble has cited a space agency's actual checklist/manual. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 24, 2015 at 20:27
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Apparently, it smells 'clean'. During his time on MIR Jerry Linenger (an MD, among other things) became very concerned with the atmosphere due to the intensity of the chemical smell. It wasn't obvious until he had done an EVA and breathed bottled (and therefore 'clean') air. Coming back to MIR he noted how bad the air quality really was. In his biography he admits to having concerns about the effects on his respiratory system looking back on this stay aboard the station. $\endgroup$
    – JDT
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 9:52

Obviously an astronaut would be the best person to answer. Not being an astronaut and assuming you are referring to conventional space suits, not some futuristic sci-fi suit, I will take my best guess.

If you go to a bowling alley and received the shoes they rent out, they spray them down quite often with a cleaning/disinfecting solution, but they still have a smell. I clean my motorcycle helmet every now and then, but it definitely takes on a smell. NASA space suits are designed for the person wearing it, so I believe that after time, the plastics and such would mingle with the personal smell of the occupant to create a definite smell. I also, think the strength of that smell would increase with use.

If you are writing a story and want to include a smell, who's going to argue your wrong? Your knowledgeable pool of critics is pretty small. Good luck.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.