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Nostrildamus 45

Scientific American has a column about a guy who has the duty of smelling materials that go into space, to make sure the astronauts won't end up gagging from odors that might disperse in the atmosphere on Earth but be concentrated in the Shuttle or space station.
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  • I used to work with a guy who'd sniff bicycle seats for jollies. I guess he went to work for NASA...

  • We all about these weird jobs all the time. I mean how on earth or space does one apply for a position which really takes no physical effort or mental strain? What would the previos work experiance for this person be after they left NASA.

    Please list your previous positions...

    I used to smell for NASA. Using my sense of smell my duty was to decide if a certain smell might cause astronauts to gag on the smell in a more concentrated environment.

    Hmm ok. How will this help the janitoral position you are applying for?

    I can tell you on a scale of 1 to 10 how much this shit smells?

    Sounds good. Your'e Hired.


    I love my iBook. I use it to run Linux!
  • So, does this mean that along with controlling vitamins etc. in space-food they also work on the diet to make sure the astronauts aren't going to be producing their own "nefarious funk "?
  • by Jailbrekr ( 73837 ) <jailbrekr@digitaladdiction.net> on Monday May 21, 2001 @12:42AM (#208985) Homepage
    I guess they can stop planning that Mexican cook off on the ISS..........
  • Can you imagine the practical jokes the NASA folks could pull on these guys?

    Astronaught: Hey, could you check this out? I suspect this wouldn't work well in the shuttle.

    Nostrildamus: Sure.


    Nostrildamus: Jeeeeeessus! <gack> what the hell was that? <choke>

    Astronaught: Zappa's 'Voodoo Buttercup' underpants. From the quilt he made of women's underpants that he collected at various concerts.

  • news editor: we need someone to cover a story about sniffing gross things for NASA. copy editor: how 'bout old Steve Smith? news editor: nah, who else we got? copy editor: well, there's John Adams... news editor: nope, he wouldn't work. copy editor: well, what about Steve Mirsky? news editor: yea, MIRSKY sounds kinda gross.. he'll fit in. let's do it!
  • Somewhere on the long checklist of over one milion items, this man smells the astronauts before they can enter the shuttle.

    "Wow, you smell like a man, ummm well, the others don't smell any better, you may enter"
  • You know, one has to be a little taken aback when one combines the words "NASA," "Safety," and "Canary." It makes me wonder if they also have tasters down here on the planet discovering if the food is poisonous or if the command screens cause permanent eye damage.

    It also makes me wonder if these people are required to smell the astronauts.
  • Oh, I'm sure we could cook up some great sounding resume entries.

    How does:

    Directed and supervised team engaged in assessment of olfactory hazards and irritants in controlled environments used in aerospace industry.


    But remember (read the article), this guy is a "chemistry laboratory technician" whose job 90% of the time is probably a little more serious. (read the article). I can't imagine that this is his full-time position, although I suppose coordinating the panels and tabulating results could generate a lot of administrative work.

  • I realize your intent was humor, but if you read the article you would know that the "smellers" are various NASA employees, ranging from engineers to secrataries. There are 25 of them, and the rotate in groups of 5.

  • About 3 months ago, Scientific American changed formats, and I am not very impressed. It seems to have tried to pull in the Discovery and Wired audiences at the same time with "new layout", "smaller articles", and dropping pretty much all its columns from the past (Mathematics, Home Scientist, Wonders, etc etc) except for the humour one.

    The biggest problem is that the articles do not seem to get the "review" that they got previously or the editing for style over content has pulled out some of the meat. Even the latest news blurbs have gone from scientific facts reported to "yet un-published papers".

    I just signed up for a 3 year subscription right before the change (well thats one thing I can change this week.) Personally I would rather get Popular Science now than Scientific American. I am going to probably just have to get a subscription to Science or Nature now.

    Stephen "Old Fuddy-Duddy" Smoogen
  • ... because this guy must definitely be a decendant of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, the great noser (and murderer *eg*) from Patrik Süskind: "Perfume" (ISBN: 0140120831).
  • > I mean how on earth or space does one apply for a position which really takes no physical effort or mental strain?

    It must take a bit of concentration to rank smells like that, even on a scale of 0-4, as we are not really designed for it . Unlike sight or hearing, smell is really a background sense - we are not used to paying analytical attention to it.

    I wouldn't want to do the job for too long at once, both from the sense of smell getting jaded, and concentration wandering.

    Roy Ward.
  • This guy probably gets the sack every time he gets a cold, haha. Imagine if someone asks you what your job is! "I smell" you reply "I know" the other one says. lol
  • ...the guy employed at a german auto-manufacturer (I think it's BMW). His job is to smell the different materials, and make sure they smell "BMW'ish" and don't affect each other to create a bad smell.

    He got famous on a german TV-show, where he was able to tell the make, model and year of a dusin cars, just by smelling them (he was blindfolded).

  • he can always do a carear move... some of those expert tasters make six figures and more.
  • by Catmeat ( 20653 ) <mtmNO@SPAMsys.uea.ac.uk> on Monday May 21, 2001 @03:02AM (#208998)
    When Apollo 8 splashed down after flying round the moon in December 1968, the diver who had the job of opening the hatch as the capsule bobbed up and down in the ocean came close to throwing up from the smell inside.

    Three guys in a small, sealed space for 12 days, using toilets that where essentially hi-tech plastic bags. Makes you shudder just to think aboout it.

  • > He got famous on a german TV-show, where he was able to tell the make, model and year of a dusin cars, just by smelling them (he was blindfolded).

    And, at the same time, he was able to tell the race of the car owner's neighbour's dog...

  • Smelling stuff before they go to space? Yeah it makes senses. This is no different than say a wine taster, perfume tester(?) and so on. I am sure they have people to make sure the food and water taste okay, machines ain't too loud, tools ain't slippy when used with gloves etc. Things that concern every one of our senses.

    What this story is really about is how difficult it is to travel to space, how many things that need to be take into account for every shuttle launch [slashdot.org]. Grow up people, this is not news for kids.


  • After reading the article, and laughing, and laughing and laughing, I stopped and thought about it for a moment.

    This would be a severe impediment to such things as a comercial public space station or that much touted space hotel idea from back in the late 60s.

    Can you imagine having 200 guests paying for their week in space, then demanding their money back because the 201st guest refused to bathe, and stunk up the whole place...

    Oh, and I thought security was bad when taking my liggage through customs now... "I'm sorry sir, your leather coat stinks when I spray water on it, we can not allow you to bring it into space" the agent says after sniffing all my belongings...

    Oh, and a new kind of extortion: "You can rent a storage locker here for $2000 per day or I'll be happy to hold on to the coat for you."

    Space travel opens up so many new possibilities...

  • Amen. I don't even see the point of SciAm continuing to publish - Discover has this niche covered. Better they should have quit gracefully than disgrace such a grand institution like this. Incidentally, I did see there is a CD-ROM out of all the Amateur Scientist columns from SciAm's glory days....
  • John Glenn passed his test.
  • I was really upset that they dropped James Burke's column... I got myself a three-year subscription on the hopes that he'd be around for a while... *sigh*


  • Several years ago I saw a documentary about NYC water distribution. One of the quality controls was a woman who had some great sense of smell. She would smell samples of the water to determine if there was anything "bad" with it. Her job was so serious that she wore a white lab coat. Sorry, time has faded all the other details.
  • Smell disipation in space is one thing I never thought of. It's bad enough having to wait the 10-20 seconds for a fart to dissipate in your office. All the time hoping someone doesn't walk in. How much worse is it on the ISS? Do the ventillation systems work just as good at removing odor as office ones do? If not, that's one way of making yourself very unpopular. Can you imagine lines like, "man, don't go into that capsule for at least an hour. Ivan was just in there."
  • by Sloppy ( 14984 )

    Listen to "Panty Rap" on Tinseltown Rebellion to hear him .. uh .. requesting donations. Go to this site [www.arf.ru] for actual pictures of the finished quilt.

  • What do you do if Tito rips a killer "rotten egg" fart on the ISS? Do they have special "fart filters" for this sort of thing?
  • I was wondering if it was just my perception or if the magazine really had hit the black-diamond downhill run.

    The new editor seems to have decided that Scientific Americans are as dumb and brash as the worldwide stereotypes suggest, and that he can't go wrong by lowering it further. (P.T. Barnum would suggest that he's right.)

    John Rennie has also decided to preach from his new pulpit, and while I don't disagree much with his politics, they have absolutely no place in a magazine that's supposed to be presenting science, not politics. The previous editor had been a touch more subtle in making his political viewpoints known, but I had been finding that distasteful for the last few years. Now, instead of simply an editorial on nuclear power or an article on the uses of placental blood, the feature articles themselves are on the ethics of using medical waste, or treaty rights arguments over the use of Yucca Mountain as a permanent nuclear storage facility. Wake up, guys, Oprah and Larry King have already covered those topics. Let the Law Review cover them. Stick to the science, please.

    What do you suppose happened? Is geek-chic such an "in" thing that carrying an unread Scientific American in your briefcase is now a fashion accessory? Perhaps these weenies got puzzled when they bothered to crack one open and found polysyllabic words in a column marked "Mathematical Recreations"?

    Damn, and I just hit the switch on their new perennial no-spam-just-bill-my-Visa after tiring of 15 years of "OHMYGOD, your subscription will expire in 11 months! Resubscribe now to avoid the loss of just eight more issues!"

    John, disgusted too.

  • The problem with useing a dog for this is that dogs don't find any smell disgusting. You really need a human nose and human brain to do this particular kind of work.

  • I'm kinda surprised that NASA is using a human to do this. I didn't read the article yet, so perhaps this is a waste. Aren't we, as humans, one of the more under-developed species when it comes to olafactory senses?

    Why would we need anything more than a human with a rather sensitive sense of smell? We aren't interested in making sure that no dog gags at the odor: we want the poor humans to feel OK.

  • Anyone else remember mirsky's Worst of the Web? Same Steve Mirsky?!? That site kicked ass...
  • Here in New Jersey USA. There is a company (or a division of the environmental protection agency) that can be hired out to do smelling test. The report I saw on TV was that they are regular people like you and me, that have slightly more refined abilities in describing the smells, (like a wine taster) and consistently go to classes (smelling schools) to refine it.

    Their job in NJ is to track down offending smells that might originate at factories. They work in teams of 2, and walk the town. They write detailed reports, take wind samples and try to locate the offending smell. The way the TV show pictured it, it seemed that it was a difficult job, not as easy as it sounds. Also, I recall, they get paid pretty good, I think it was 40K plus travel. Not a bad take for working with your nose.

    Another TV show I saw was the NOVA episode about perfumes. Those people were located in labs in France with thousands of different smells that they mix to make perfumes.

  • Sign me up for the smell-tested Slashdot. A cadre of brave Nasalteers can prevaluate the articles in the submission queue and categorize them by odor.

    This article, for example, might rate as "olidous, with a mildly mephitic aftertaste."

  • How are you supposed to ask the dog what he thinks?
  • Obviously some moderator without the slightest hint of humour read my post and decided - "Not funny, therefore off-topic". Thank you very much for this encouragement to try to make the world a funnier place. I think I'll take my fathers hunting rifle to school tomorrow anyway.. P.S. ;o)
  • The company I work for is in the food business, and I happen to work at their R&D facilities. At any rate, when they are developing new products they usually do a whole range of sensory panels so that they can provide the consumer with the most pleasing experience possible. We often have sensory panels where anybody in the company can come in and do a taste/smell/sight/texture test, but we also have an elite group of sensory experts who are called in for special sensory panels. While they are the expert panel, their usual jobs are things like "Packaging Engineer," "QA Tester," "Process Development Engineer," etc. It's not anybody's full-time job, but the elite group have been given special training to allow them to be more effective. I imagine that NASA is doing something similar.
  • I'm kinda surprised that NASA is using a human to do this. I didn't read the article yet, so perhaps this is a waste. Aren't we, as humans, one of the more under-developed species when it comes to olafactory senses?

    Most of us are, yes. But then that's the trick isn't it? You can't have a dog tell you that something stinks because dogs cannot talk. You could build a sniffer machine to test the smell, but then it ends up having a wider range of detectability than a human nose, and it still can't tell you if something smells really awful.

    Nope, if you want to see if something smells bad to a human being, then you pretty much are best of (economically and effectively) using humans as testers.
  • I don't think I'd want to be stuck on the ISS with something a dog let pass because it smelled like "Sparky's Butt".

    FWIW, companies who make personal care products like Gillette and Procter & Gamble have people who do all kinds of weird crap to make sure the stuff does what it's supposed to. I remember a Nat'l Geographic article a while back about the sense of smell in general. It featured "armpit sniffers" at a company that did research for P&G in Ohio.

  • And let me point out that, as the owner of two dogs, while they may have superior abilities to sense smells, their discretion of how things smell is completely different. There's all that ass-sniffing of one another that goes on, and few dogs look happier than when they're excitedly investigating the smell of urine or feces left by another dog. Or rolling around on top of a dead squirrel or bird. And my dogs, in the past week, have eaten a dead turtle and a dead frog, so their sense of taste isn't great either. On the other hand, they'll stay completely away from anything slathered in delicious Tabasco sauce. :)

  • Why don't we start an OS movement in this field! Open Nose! Get the community to share the smelling duties. Maybe even distributed. Sorta a NOSEY at home project?
  • Okay, yeah, so these guys do their job to protect that 'stronauts. Nice. Much more important is the testing that goes on beforehand for things that could kill them. A nice story, but a bit, well, fluffy.

    I work with the guys at Marshall Space Flight Center who do toxicity testing pretty regularly. Offgassing is a huge concern, up there with flammability. [Stuff that doesn't burn in Earth's atmosphere will burn in the ISS/STS atmosphere, especially ISS, which runs at 25.3% oxygen.

  • Maybe they could use something like this [cyranosciences.com].

    From the
    FAQ [cyranosciences.com]:

    Q: What can you sense and discriminate?

    A: Generally our polymer composite sensors can detect volatiles with molecular weights from 30 to 250. However this is not a sure rule since we have also developed sensors that respond to compounds outside of this molecular range. We have demonstrated the sensitivity and discrimination to pure solvents (butanol, toluene, DMSO), complex mixtures (commercially available perfumes), natural products (essential oils, coffees, fruits) and by products from the metabolic breakdown of bacteria. We have also tested grains, rancidity of dried products, spices, and packaging materials.

  • This guy probably gets the sack every time he gets a cold, haha.

    Yeah. And can you imagine how hard it is to get another job when your major qualification is telling people how much things stink?

    Heck, you'd even have trouble being a bum; I don't think I need to tell you how unsuccessful wearing a " Will smell for food " sign around your neck would be...

  • I wish I had mod points to give you I would have placed you at +1 funny


    thank you for the morning laugh
  • Imagine how bad the changes seem if you DO disagree with his politics.

    For me, the worst began when Rennie put his picture in the editorial section of the magazine. That's changed now, but only because they've removed the editorials completely.

    My subscription petered out this month, though I did email them my reasons (and a suggestion to change the name to "Reactionary American")

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