ISS Astronaut Maps Out the Stinkiest Spots on the Space Station

The whiffiest places on the space station are all -- no real surprise -- waste-related.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
2 min read
ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti in a hatch to the Cygnus spacecraft with bags of garbage behind her.
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ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti in a hatch to the Cygnus spacecraft with bags of garbage behind her.

Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti poses with the open hatch to a Cygnus cargo craft packed with stinky garbage.

Samantha Cristoforetti/ESA/Processing by Amanda Kooser/CNET

The International Space Station is no bed of roses. Visitors to the orbital outpost have described it as smelling like metallic burnt toastbacon or gunpowder. European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti has her own take on the unique olfactory quirks of the ISS.

Cristoforetti -- famous for her sci-fi cosplay -- is on her second mission to the ISS and is fielding questions about the experience. This week, she addressed the issue of odor. Cristoforetti is a TikTok star, but also shares her TikTok videos on other platforms. 

The astronaut said she quickly has gotten used to the overall smell of the station to the point where it becomes normal and seems like it has no odor at all. There are some exceptions to that rule, though. Cristoforetti showed off the three stinkiest spots on the ISS. 

Cristoforetti's first example is trash, including when crew recently loaded up a Cygnus spacecraft with used gear and garbage.  Next are the big blue bags where the solid waste -- poop -- containers are stashed. 

Trash and excrement aren't a big surprise, but there's another source of smell you might not have anticipated. It involves the station's brine processor, a system that evaporates water from processed urine. Water is a precious commodity in orbit, so urine is recycled into drinking water.  

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The astronaut describes all three areas as a "little bit smelly."  Otherwise, the space station smells "very pleasant," said Cristoforetti.

If you ever visit the ISS, you might want to give the trash, poo containers and brine processor a wide berth if you can. It's pretty tight quarters up there, so you might need to do what Cristoforetti demonstrates in the video and just hold your nose.