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62406.  Wed Mar 29, 2006 5:34 am Reply with quote

Question: What does the moon smell like?

Forfeit: Cheese.

Answer: Gunpowder.

Obviously when astronauts walked on the moon, they were unable to smell the atmosphere; but moondust is extremely clingy stuff, and plenty of it was traipsed back into the cabin when the atronauts returned from the moon's surface.

According to the few men who have actually been there, moon dust feels like snow, smells like gunpowder, and doesn't taste half bad.

Apollo 16 pilot Charlie Duke said it tasted and smelled of gunpowder, and Apollo 17's Gene Cernan once claimed that it, "smells like someone just fired a carbine in here."

Modern smokeless gunpowder is a mixture of nitrocellulose (C6H8(NO2)2O5) and nitroglycerin (C3H5N3O9). These are flammable organic molecules "not found in lunar soil," says Gary Lofgren of the Lunar Sample Laboratory at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Hold a match to moondust--nothing happens, at least, nothing explosive.

What is moondust made of? Almost half is silicon dioxide glass created by meteoroids hitting the moon. These impacts, which have been going on for billions of years, fuse topsoil into glass and shatter the same into tiny pieces. Moondust is also rich in iron, calcium and magnesium bound up in minerals such as olivine and pyroxene. It's nothing like gunpowder.

So why the smell? No one knows.

Incidentally, NASA actually employs a team to smell every single piece of equipment which goes onto its space flights. George Aldrich ensures that no items which could change the delicate balance of the climate of the International Space Station and the space shuttle. There is no ventilation on space shuttles after all.

189740.  Tue Jul 10, 2007 3:54 am Reply with quote

So why the smell? No one knows.

Maybe the odour of gunpowder is the nearest match our olfactory system can offer for what it's registering.


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