Who is George Aldrich?
George Aldrich had just graduated from high school in 1974 at the age of 18. His father was an active Navy pilot for the Blue Angels, so with such big shoes to fill, he went out on a search for a temp job just impressive enough to get him where he wanted to go. But there was a more significant issue at hand: he didn’t know where that was.
When he was hired on as a temp in the White Sand’s fire department as a temp, his hard work earned him a good rapport with the Chief, who recommended him to apply for the department’s Odor Panel. As a professional sniffer, his Chief had over 600 sniffs (which is apparently very impressive).
Where Did He Start?
To start working as a volunteer for the Odor Panel, you were not allowed to have any allergies, respiratory issues, or a compromised immune system, but you also did not have to be in the NASA labs before you volunteered.
After volunteering for a short while, George realized he wanted more, just as his dad did as an amateur pilot so many years before. When he heard there was an opening in the Chemistry lab for a Technician, George went into the Hiring Manager’s office with a stronger determination than even he knew he had. He could have no idea what was in store for him.
The Beginning of a Legacy
George walked into his manager’s office with the enthusiasm of a thousand warriors, determined to get this job and pursue his passion. “I have two years of high school chemistry and four years of mathematics,” he said as he nervously stood there, awaiting a (hopefully) positive response.
At that, he received the job with the promise of becoming fully-trained over time. By 1978, he was promoted to a C Tech, then to a B Tech, then, finally, to an A-Tech. “Now, I’m the highest; a Specialist,” he said in an interview. How did such a niche role come to be?
How Did It Start?
In 1967, Apollo I killed 3 astronauts in a tragic pre-flight test.
Early on in the flight, around 6 hours before communication was lost, one of the astronauts noted a strange odor. This was the first indicator.
11 hours into the test flight, they reported a fire.
30 seconds later, the spacecraft exploded.
In later determinations, the odor was found to be unrelated to the fire, which was caused by a wire malfunction. However, this event sparked an incredible transformation in NASA’s pre-pre-flight checklists that have kept their astronauts safe and sound and given people like George Aldrich a job.
What Is the Checklist?
This vital checklist consists of 18 tests to perform for every piece of equipment sent up into space to ensure its safety for everyone involved. They rank in order of importance to the astronaut’s safety, but it seems like a mistake when you see that #6 is the Odor Panels Test, and #7 is Toxicity.
According to NASA’s official materials testing procedure, the Odor Test’s purpose and test criteria state, “The odor from a material or assembled article is objectionable or revolting if an average rating of 2.5 or higher (on an odor-characteristic scale of 0 to 4) is assigned from the test.”
Why Does Odor Matter?
“I use my sense of smell to help protect the astronauts from obnoxious odors in space,” Mr. Aldrich said in an interview from 2014.
But, why would a smell matter up in space?
Well, in the early days of Russian space exploration, a mission was forced to abort after the cosmonauts reported an unbearably horrendous smell.
Later findings concluded the cosmonaut who smelt it, dealt it.
Every object in space is required by NASA’s safety laws to be thoroughly smelt by all 5 odor panelists in a variety of ways and environments.
I mean, after all, these astronauts will be living in a 100% oxygenated environments where any object, gas, or substance could chemically react differently than it would on earth.
Why Do Things Smell Worse in Space?
Well, along with being in an extremely oxygenated environment, the day/night cycle in space lasts only 90 minutes where the daylight is excruciatingly hot, and the night is shockingly chilly.
To mimic some of these harsh conditions, they put these objects in the oven for days at a time.
The off-gassing (the scent given off from a chemical reaction) can be incredibly distracting, and sometimes very dangerous.
If an astronaut smells something suspicious in their cabins, they notify their base immediately and take serious precautions.
However, becoming nose blind (remember those Febreze commercials?) to these scents can be even more dangerous as they have no idea if the smell is toxic, or even deadly.
How Is the Odor Test Done?
Aldrich’s Odor Panel consists of 5 people who get tested by a nose and throat specialist before going in to smell “so if we have a preexisting condition and it’s interfering — redness in our nose or a raw throat — the nurse, is going to say, ‘Sorry.’ I’ve been tested more than 900 times; I think I have failed twice,” Aldrich states.
Before exposing the Odor Panel to the objects’ smell, they test for toxicity in individually-sealed containers, which are then placed in an oven at 120 degrees Fahrenheit for 3 days.
The gasses are then drawn into a syringe to test for carcinogenic or toxic tendencies, and if they are safe, they inject the gas into an oxygenated mask on the Odor Panelists.
How Are Smells Determined to Be Offensive or Not?
Since the Odor Panelists never see the item before they smell it, their rating system is based on strength, not ‘pleasant’ or ‘unpleasant.’
“The scale is 0-4… If it has more than a 2.5 rating, it fails… [and] they have numerous options to reduce the odor,” Aldrich states in his AMA on Reddit.
I know you’re probably wondering how a Level 4 scent smells. Well, have you ever stepped into an elevator after someone seemingly poured an entire bottle of cologne or perfume on them?
You know how your immediate reaction is to literally run?
Well, that’s what our dear old George feels when a Level 4 scent gets injected into his mask.
Which items weren’t up to snuff?
One of the most surprising failures was a refrigerator that was sent up to space after the astronauts had already launched.
Once it got there, the astronauts immediately got sick from the smell alone.
They double bagged it, sent it back down, and it quickly destroyed it.
In the past, other items like camera film, felt-tipped markers, mascara, and certain stuffed animals have failed these tests.
Another surprise failure was a pair of Velcro straps. Separately, they had no smell, but as soon as they were put together and ripped apart, it stunk up the whole room.
For reference, they measured at a 3.6 and a 3.8 on the Odor Scale. “Objectionable and revolting,” Aldrich said.
What Is a Spaceship Supposed to Smell Like?
Ideally, a spaceship would be 100% odor free, but that’s never a realistic expectation when there are, well, real people involved.
Believe it or not, everyone farts. Yes, even celebrities and superhuman astronauts.
So, if you consider this completely normal bodily function, alongside standard bathroom bodily functions and common body odors (especially since astronauts can’t shower), then yes.
Without humans, a spaceship could be odor-free; but with humans, a spacecraft will smell horrendous.
These astronauts are very picky, however, and sometimes will request items up in the space station that are toxic or have offensive smells like superglue, film, and tape.
What Does Space Smell Like?
Ideally, the odors in the spacecraft would be minimal to help the astronauts identify other smells — like the smell of space, a gas leak, or a possibly toxic substance leak which could all be potentially deadly to the astronauts.
According to Don Pettit, the International Space Station science officer, space does not smell anything like you would expect it to. Mars smells like rotten eggs, the moon smells like gunpowder, Jupiter smells like bitter almonds, and Uranus smells odorless!
“The Smell Of Space”
Few people have experienced traveling into space. Even fewer have experienced the smell of space. Now, this sounds strange, that a vacuum could have a smell and that a human being could live to smell that smell.
It seems about as improbable as listening to sounds in space, yet space has a definite smell.
“Being creatures of an atmosphere, we can only smell space indirectly. Sort of like the way a pit viper smells by waving its tongue in the air and then pressing it to the roof of its mouth where sensors process the molecules that have been absorbed onto the waggling appendage.”
“The Smell Of Space” Cont…
“I had the pleasure of operating the airlock for two of my crewmates while they went on several spacewalks. 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 of describing the palette sensations of some new food as ‘tastes like chicken.’
The best description I can come up with is…”
“The Smell Of Space” Cont…
“…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,” George Aldrich related of his experience with space smells.
“It reminded me of pleasant sweet smelling welding fumes.
That is the smell of space.”
This detailed description of space has helped scientists figure out what kind of chemical reactions occur in an anti-gravity, anti-oxygen environment. The smell of space seems like it would be objectively bad, but I’m sure someone in the world would like it.
Is the Official Job Title, “Chief Sniffer?”
“I came up with “Nasalnaut,” [because] I wanted something cute,” Aldrich stated in his AMA.
Others have come up with their versions of this title with creations like, “Nostrildamus,” “NASA Nose,” and “Silver Snoopy Sniffer.” How many professionals can claim such colorful job titles?
The Silver Snoopy award is highly treasured because while Charles Schulz was still alive, he was an avid space buff. NASA reached out to him to inquire about Snoopy being their official mascot, much like Smokey the Bear.
Aldrich’s official job title is Chemical Specialist, but after he received the Silver Snoopy award, he began to prefer his original, “cute” title of Nasalnaut.
What Kind of Salaries Do “Nasalnauts” Receive?
Odor testers generally don’t make outrageous money, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t vital to almost every industry.
I mean, how many times have you bought a pair of jeans and they smell like chemicals and packaging?
Those guys apparently don’t have odor testers, and they indeed don’t have someone like George Aldrich on their side (but really, they should).
Although Aldrich’s salary as a Chief Sniffer is not publicly available, according to Indeed, chemical specialists receive an average of $80,000 per year.
You might be wondering how you can get on this super impressive Odor Panel alongside George but fear not! There are plenty of other scent related jobs out there.
What are other Odor Testing jobs in NASA?
When NASA first received reports from the astronauts of space smelling like something rotten or burnt, many of the scientists went to work to identify the smell.
These scientists created and recreated many different smells from polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon compounds. These hydrocarbons exist in natural items like coal, oil, and some food when it burns.
Many of these smells in space were recreated by firing off gunpowder, burnt steak, and vehicle exhaust fumes in a sealed area.
The moon smells like spent gunpowder while a nearby galaxy has been tested to smell like sweet sugar. Other dark pockets of the universe could smell precisely like rotten eggs.
Do you like the smell of BO after a long, hard day of work? Neither do your friendly deodorant makers, which is why they heartily employ Armpit Sniffers to ensure your deodorant lasts all day.
Their job is simple: Apply deodorant to an armpit, let said armpit go about their day, come back, and smell the armpit to test for unpleasant smells. Wait, what?
At an average starting salary of $35,000, this job seems like it may not be worth the time or the trauma of sniffing up to 60 armpits a day,
But, don’t be too quick to judge — after gaining some seniority, an Armpit Sniffer could earn up to $100,000 a year.
So, the real name for this career in Chinese is “wen pishi” or “fart sniffing master” (聞屁師), but in America, the closest relative to this career is in gastroenterology.
Essentially, chemists study the organs and the chemical reactions that occur from various diseases and then sniff the farts of those who suffer from those diseases. They can then pinpoint certain scents that arise from these diseases and thus diagnose (surprisingly accurately) stomach and intestinal infections.
A gastroenterologist in America would earn around $315,038 a year, while a “wen pishi” in China would earn the equivalent of about $50,000.
To excel in this career, you must be free of any nasal impairment, nicotine/smoking addiction, allergies, and refrain from drinking alcohol. You must also pass a final exam that we can only assume consists of smelling way too many farts.
Car Part Scenter
At Ford Motors, the traditional new car smell is not only cherished, but also extremely difficult to achieve. Why do you think that is?
Well, this scent is made up of 100 different materials, thousands of chemicals, and too-many-to-count scent experiments.
Each part is put in a jar and put through real-life conditioning to ensure all the bad smells stay out, and all the parts smell as they should.
If a piece of leather smells like perfume, smoke, or chemicals, it has to go back because the treasured new car smell requires that real, genuine leather smell to smell like, well, a new car.
A typical salary for this career is around $50-70,000, depending on the company.
So, this one is a little less weird, but it’s just as rewarding as the other ones, I promise (well, probably).
Aromatherapy is known to help alleviate pain, symptoms of chronic illnesses, and to help encourage things like sleep, relaxation, happiness, and even sensuality. This is why masseuses always make sure the room and sheets smell a certain way.
As an aromatherapist, your job is to mix the right amount of oils to achieve a specific scent meant to accomplish the goals of your patient.
Many aromatherapists can make between $25-$65 per hour, but some can clear over $100 per hour if they combine aromatherapy with massage therapy or cosmetology.
Ice Cream Smeller
Most people don’t know how delicately balanced the chemical and flavor compositions of ice cream must be. Between the taste, the smell, the packaging, and the color, new flavors that may taste good need to be tested for aroma and color, as well.
On the inverse, flavors that smell delectable could also taste like you’re licking a cafeteria floor. Flavor and Scent Scientists are sent around the world to get a taste (and a smell) of different flavor combinations that may be entirely new for different countries.
Flavor and Scent Scientists can earn a salary of up to $80,000 with travel benefits included.
Go-Jek Smell Check
In countries or cities where space is limited, and taxi drivers are less willing to pick up a single rider, motorcycle taxies are picking up a lot of popularity. However, a slightly unexpected issue they ran into was the motorcycle taxi drivers’ offensive body odor.
To fix this, hiring managers added a test to their hiring process: a body odor test. If they have proper hygiene and can operate a motorcycle safely, they’re hired.
This test caught on in the Go-Jek industry, and they use their non-smelly reputation to stand out from taxis and public transportation.
Unfortunately, there is no public salary information available, but let’s say this might not be worth your while to look into.
Getting into the perfume business is easy as pie if you have the nose for it, but let me tell you, it’s not a piece of cake once you are in there.
Each scent is a chemical reaction of different oils, alcohols, and specially-formulated chemicals that are tested and approved by a panel of Perfumers.
To remain indifferent and avoid going nose blind to such strong scents, Perfumers will keep a jar of coffee beans or peppermint in a sealed container to cleanse their palate.
Perfumers can make up to $175,000 in some companies, but a general starting salary is about $50,000-$75,000.
Breath Odor Evaluator
We all have that one friend that makes it painfully difficult to be within 5 ft. of them because of their bad breath.
Did they recently eat a whole onion? Have they lost their toothbrush? Did they just vomit?
Your guess could be as good as mine. Lucky for us, people get paid quite a bit of money to smell people’s breaths.
Some evaluators work for large corporations like Wriggley’s or Altoids to test their products on people with chronically lousy breath. Others work for research institutions like the International Society for Breath Odor Research to evaluate and diagnose the bad breath symptom.
More Breath Odor Evaluators
You’ve got to have a strong stomach for this career, however, because they choose the worst of the worst to ensure their products work as they advertise.
Listerine, Colgate, Sensodyne, and Crest have their Odor Panels to ensure top-level satisfaction for their customers.
Unfortunately, this job is pretty rare in America, so salary data is limited, but those in this field most likely have degrees in chemistry, Ph.D.’s in Dentistry, and concentrations in halitosis.
At a starting level, you could make around $34,000 per year, but depending on the severity of the smells you’re smelling, you could earn up to $125,500 per year.
Paper Towel Sniffer
This job is so rare that even if Americans began using 10x the number of paper towels, there still wouldn’t be a job increase.
Mostly, you would be doing precisely what the title suggests: sniffing paper towels. All day long. Scented paper towels, unscented paper towels, used paper towels, packaged paper towels, paper towels left in the sun, cold paper towels — you name it, it’s on the sniff list.
The only pay information we have found for this career states you could make around $19,000 to $52,000 a year, or $1,000 a week.
Unfortunately, it’s on the lower end since there are no risks or unfortunately horrendous smells to be smelt, but, after all, it’s better than the Go-Jek Smeller.
So, maybe this isn’t a human job, but it sure does take a lot of training for the human and the pupper. These professional pups can sniff out all kinds of drugs, bombs, specific people, live bodies, dead bodies, and, of course, dog treats in their owner’s pockets. This dog obviously didn’t use his nose to figure out that this is a (fake) bomb, but nonetheless, we are proud.
These dogs are an absolute asset to police departments, fire departments, and special units that keep the public safe and secure from any and every threat.
Training these dogs can be costly, around $2,000-$9,000, but a fully-trained dog costs around $15,000-$30,000.