Even though his formal title is Chemical Specialist, he prefers "Nasalnaut."

By Cailey Rizzo
Updated May 27, 2020
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George Aldrich
Courtesy of NASA

At NASA, every detail must be perfect before take-off, even down every smell.

Cue chief sniffer, George Aldrich whose job it is to take a whiff of every object about to be sent to space including books, gear, fabric, toothpaste, pens.

Aldrich, whose formal title is Chemical Specialist and has been on the job for over 30 years, works at the White Sands Test Facility’s Molecular Desorption and Analysis Laboratory in New Mexico. He is in charge of toxicity and odor testing.

“I use my sense of smell to help protect the astronauts from obnoxious odors in outer space,” Aldrich explained in a Science Channel documentary about his unusual job in 2014.

The task has much larger implications than just making sure astronauts don’t have to deal with unpleasant smells. By preventing distracting odors from being sent to space, Aldrich ensures that astronauts will be able to smell dangerous situations like a chemical leak or something burning.

On Earth a foul or alarming odor, like smoke, can fade away thanks to air circulation — something astronauts' quarters lack in space.

“When we’re in the space station or the shuttle, there is no additional air. We don’t open a window and get some fresh air in there,” Susana Harper, manager of Nasa's nasal lab told the Science Channel. “What we have to do here on the ground is verify that we’re not sending new odors up there. Because once they’re up there, they’re stuck there.”

Even the smallest smell can linger for years in space. The odor can affect not only the astronaut’s ability to complete tasks but could make them sick.

And not just anybody can get the job and keep it. Aldrich must pass a smelling test every four months to remain on the odor panel. “If you have a lot of allergies, your nasal passages are already irritated and cannot be used,” he explained in a NASA profile.

In a Reddit AMA last year, Aldrich revealed that there are many different titles for his important job but the one he likes best is one he came up with himself: nasalnaut.

“I wanted something cute,” he said.