In case you wondered what space smells like…?

This is Mike Hopkins – if you didn’t recognize him!

Most people probably assumed space was devoid of any sort of distinct musk — space is just a cold, dark, lifeless place, after all. But not so, says NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins, who recently returned to Earth after 166 days aboard the International Space Station.

Yesterday, in a tell-all, “ask-me-anything” Reddit interview, Hopkins spilled some of space’s secrets — including the fact that it smells.

“Space has a smell,” Hopkins wrote in one of his many responses. “And I don’t mean inside the space station,” he continued. “When a visiting vehicle docks with the space station, there is ‘space’ between the two vehicles. Once the pressure is equalized and the hatch is opened, you have this metallic ionization-type smell. It’s quite unique and very distinct.”

Among the other nuggets of space truth offered by Hopkins were the facts that: astronauts sweat and occasionally get nervous, the food isn’t that bad (his favorites were beef enchiladas and apricot cobbler), and that the he and his fellow ISS companions drink sweat to keep hydrated.

“The interesting part is that the sweat does go into the condensate system that gets recycled,” Hopkins wrote. “Eventually after the towels dry off and the water is recycled, it becomes drinking water.”

I know our culture inhibits casual reading of anything that even sounds like it’s somehow scientific. Still, I keep hoping.

China sends their first woman astronaut into space

China launched its most ambitious space mission yet on Saturday, carrying its first female astronaut and two male colleagues in an attempt to dock with an orbiting module and work on board for more than a week.

The Shenzhou 9 capsule lifted off as scheduled at 6:37 p.m. (1037 GMT) from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on the edge of the Gobi Desert. All systems functioned normally and, just over 10 minutes later, it opened its solar panels and entered orbit…

Female astronaut Liu Yang, 33, and two male crew members – mission commander and veteran astronaut Jing Haipeng, 45, and newcomer Liu Wang, 43 – are to dock the spacecraft with a prototype space lab launched last year in a key step toward building a permanent space station. All three are experienced pilots and officers in the Chinese air force…

China is hoping to join the United States and Russia as the only countries to send independently maintained space stations into orbit. It is already one of just three nations to have launched manned spacecraft on their own.

Another manned mission to the module is planned later this year, while possible future missions could include sending a man to the moon.

The space program is a source of enormous national pride for China, reflecting its rapid economic and technological progress and ambition to rank among the world’s leading nations. The selection of the first female astronaut is giving the program an additional publicity boost…

The astronauts are expected to reach the module, called Tiangong 1, on Monday. Now orbiting at 343 kilometers above Earth, the module is only a prototype, and plans call for it to be replaced by a larger permanent space station due for completion around 2020…

China has only limited cooperation in space with other nations and its exclusion from the ISS, largely on objections from the United States, was one of the key spurs for it to pursue an independent space program 20 years ago.

At the current rate of progress in the United States, I imagine China will share the sale of tickets to the Moon and Mars with Space-X to members of Congress who care to visit in the next 50 years. Our politicians really deserve “credit” for the results of their Cold war mentality.

Space Pic of the Day

Click on photo to enlarge

The Aurora Australis is seen between Antarctica and Australia in this picture taken by Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers on board the International Space Station.

Let’s please remember there is an aurora associated with both the North and South Poles, eh?

Amazing view of comet from space station

NASA astronaut Dan Burbank shared a matchless view of Comet Lovejoy from the International Space Station, showing the comet’s magnificent tail from a vantage point high above the atmosphere.

I probably saw the most amazing thing I have ever seen in space, and that’s saying an awful lot, because every day is filled with amazing things,” he told Detroit’s WDIV-TV in an interview.

Hundreds of photos, captured from an altitude of 240 miles, were assembled into the video you see here. You can see the comet rise from the horizon, shining through the green line of atmospheric airglow, and then fade away as the sunrise breaks out in brilliance. It’s a view only three people can see with their own eyes — although that little list will rise to six on Friday when three more crewmates arrive on a Russian Soyuz craft.

Breathtaking. I’m happy I’m alive in a time where at least I can watch something like this secondhand.