Making Sure The “New Spacecraft Smell” Doesn’t Damage Spacecraft | Out Of This World Weekly

By now, we all have experienced that “New Car” smell associated with new cars, electronics, and other select products.  What many of us don’t know is that this smell isn’t a good thing.  While it does mean that the product is newly manufactured and most likely unused, the smell itself can be dangerous.  The smell is a product of Outgassing, where atoms, ions, or molecules have adsorbed to the surface of the product and are now re-entering the air around the product.  The reason “New Car Smell” doesn’t smell like anything else in nature is because it is not natural.  It is most likely the result of a combination of extremely harsh chemicals from epoxies, lubricants, solvents, and paints.  These combinations of chemicals can be dangerous to humans and also to complex equipment like spacecraft.  Luckily, a team of NASA engineers have developed a new way of neutralizing these gases and protecting us from the effects of outgassing. 

Outgassing has been known to be dangerous for years and it is the reason that it is recommended that people who buy new cars drive with the windows open or with full ventilation until the scent is gone.  NASA has used a different approach in the past by using zeolite-coated cordierite devices that look like hockey pucks.  It does take quite a few of these devices to safely clear the spacecraft of hazardous toxins because they aren’t particularly efficient and this also adds to the weight of the spacecraft.  To decrease the weight and space needed, NASA engineers have developed a sprayable paint that adsorbes these dangerous gasses and stops them from adhering to sensitive mirrors, high voltage units, cryogenic instruments, solar arrays, and thermal control units.  This paint happens to be low cost, easy to apply, and far more effective than current solutions.  Either portions of the spacecraft itself can be painted with this material or adhesive tape can be painted and then affixed to the inside of instrumentation or cavities in the spacecraft itself to adsorb any toxic gases.  This approach could increase longevity of components, as well as decrease the amount of equipment failures on all spacecraft.

Several major space industrial firms have expressed interest in this adsorbing paint and could very well be used in the International Space Station and other future inhabited space outposts to trap not only harmful pollutants but also odors.  This technology holds much promise here on Earth as well.  This material could help protect us from harmful toxins in the air not only from new products that are outgassing but from other airborne toxins as well.  Odor control can be a problem in certain places and it is always nice to have a new product that works not only well but also in a different way than other current products.  Extending the life of sensitive equipment can be difficult and expensive, yet this product could passively do so while also being inexpensive.  It may take some time to get this product to a point where it is commonly used, so be as smart as a NASA engineer when you are opening your holiday gifts and please remember the dangers of toxins outgassing from new equipment can be dangerous. 


  1. You know what else has dangerous outgassing? Grandpop after too many Thanksgiving leftovers!