The mysterious and foul smell of the Moon, described by visiting astronauts: “It’s really strong, it smells like…”
The last astronauts to explore the lunar surface did so in 1972: they were Gene Cernan and Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, accompanied by pilot Ronald Evans, on the Apollo 17 Mission of the POT. Among the dozens, perhaps hundreds of anecdotes they collected, there is one that stands out: the smell of the moon
Everyone agrees that it is stinky, and why it smells like that is a mystery. Taking off their helmet, entering the command module, the first thing they did was examine the lunar dust. They touched it, felt it and smelled it.
What does the moon smell like?
“Smells like spent gunpowder,” Cernan specified, in a NASA chronicle. “Smells like someone fired a carbine here.”
“It’s really a strong smell,” said Apollo 16’s Charlie Duke. “It has that gunpowder taste to me, and the gunpowder smell, too.”
The possible causes of the smell of gunpowder on the Moon
But is it because the surface of the Moon has elements similar to those of gunpowder? No. NASA explains that modern gunpowder is a mixture of nitrocellulose and nitroglycerin, flammable organic molecules not found in lunar soil.
The dust material of our natural satellite has silicon dioxide, iron, calcium and magnesium, olivine and pyroxene glass.
A theory of smell, presented by astronaut Don Pettit, points out that it is the rain effect of the desert that causes that impression.
“The Moon is like a 4 billion year old desert,” says Pettit, quoted by the portal Science. “When lunar dust comes into contact with moist air in a lunar module, the effect is obtained, releasing molecules that have been trapped in the dry soil, producing previously hidden odors.”
another theory, this time by Gary Lofgren, indicates that the cause of this perception are the solar winds, made up of hydrogen, helium and other ions that are trapped in the dust.
The truth is that the Moon smells of gunpowder, for whatever reason. maybe in the NASA’s Artemis III Mission, scheduled to put the first woman and the next man on the Moon in 2025, the reasons are resolved.
The terrible experience of Jack Schmitt after returning from his walk on the Moon
Schmitt had a situation after returning from his first moon walk: he developed the so-called hay feveran allergic rhinitis with cold-like symptoms such as runny nose, itchy eyes, and congestion.
“It happened pretty quickly,” he said. “When I took off my helmet after the first spacewalk, I had a significant reaction to the dust. My turbinates swelled.”
Thanks to his subsequent walks, the symptoms subsided. The issue is that Schmitt, unlike his colleagues, was not a test pilot, but a geologist, so he was not used to similar experiments.
And since he never handled weapons, he didn’t really know if the smell of the Moon was similar to that of gunpowder.