Engaging the five senses in space through Arizona State University's interplanetary initiative

Tanya N. Harrison, Christy Spackman, Robert Li Kam Wa, Alireza Bahremand

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


Space needs to be taken out of the realm of the hero and placed into the realm of the common person. Space exploration seems so remote and advanced as to be inaccessible to most people, requiring”the right stuff” in order to engage people's minds. The goal of the”Five Senses in Space” project through Arizona State University's (ASU) Interplanetary Initiative is to humanize and familiarize space by creating novel, multi-sensory experiences-particularly focusing on the senses not traditionally engaged by existing space outreach. Our first Five Senses outreach project involved the creation of a lip balm encapsulating the “smell” of the center of our galaxy. Ethyl formate, the compound responsible for the scent of rum and smell of raspberries, has been detected within the gas cloud Sagittarius B2, near the center of the Milky Way. Based on this discovery, our raspberry- and rum-scented lip balm was created to give out a tangible item for sharing this information with the general public. Another subset of the Five Senses project is to create a “smell engine,” combining virtual reality technology with on-the-fly scent generation. The goal of this is to create immersive experiences that can bring space down to Earth, and to create familiar Earthly environments for astronauts on long-duration spaceflight. This technology also has potential applications for occupational training and medical diagnoses for injuries and/or neurodegenerative diseases impacting the sense of smell. “Project Gastronaut,” another subset of the Five Senses project, aims to improve the experience of eating for astronauts-and eventually, tourists and the larger public-in space. On extended journeys such as the 8-month one-way trip to Mars, food and the way we eat will play a critical role in health, morale, and crew community. For extended habitation of Mars and beyond, issues such as sustainable food packaging must also be addressed. Working with astronauts and combining expertise in food science and the physiological effects of extreme environments, we aim to develop ways to enhance the gustatory experience via: (1) engaging retronasal olfaction, (2) investigating texture simulation, and (3) changing how astronauts eat to improve flavor perception. This has practical applications here on Earth as well, as it can be used to help improve the experience of eating for people who have lost their sense of smell due to aging or neurodegenerative diseases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberIAC-19_E1_7_3_x50061
JournalProceedings of the International Astronautical Congress, IAC
StatePublished - 2019
Event70th International Astronautical Congress, IAC 2019 - Washington, United States
Duration: Oct 21 2019Oct 25 2019


  • Experiential learning
  • Gastronomy
  • Olfaction
  • Public outreach
  • Science engagement

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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