Is true that the Space Shuttle smelled quite bad when ground crews got aboard after a flight to clean and unload?
The space shuttle, officially called the Space Transportation System (STS), began its flight career with Columbia roaring off Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Apr. 12, 1981. Atlantis flew the final space mission, STS-135, in July 2011.
According to the NASA’s PDF Space Shuttle Era Facts, this unique vehicle system, which consists of about 2 1/2 million moving parts.
The orbiter vehicle (OV), most commonly referred to as the space shuttle, is the only part of the shuttle “stack” [that besides the orbiter comprises twin solid rocket boosters (SRBs), giant external fuel tank (ET) and three space shuttle main engines (SSMEs)] that makes the trek into orbit. Its boosters are jettisoned into the Atlantic Ocean, retrieved and reused. The external tank is the only part of the stack not used again. Instead, it re-enters the atmosphere about nine minutes after launch and burns up over the Pacific Ocean. When the shuttle returns to Earth, it does not land under parachutes as NASA’s Apollo capsules that preceded it. Instead, it returns by gliding back on a pair of wings to a runway on Earth.
But is true that the Space Shuttle smelled quite bad when ground crews got aboard after a flight to clean and unload?
‘After landing, the operating capacity of the Environmental Control System was somewhat reduced by virtue of the vehicle no longer being in a vacuum. This reduced the effectiveness of the conditioning (and odor removal) of the cabin air.
‘All ‘fresh food’ and ‘wet trash’ stored in the vehicle (as well as other things) began to get pretty rank after a while.
‘In the cases that I am aware of the vehicle was completely powered down somewhere between 45 min and 1 hour after landing, due to exhaustion of the onboard coolant working fluid (ammonia). [The environmental system was run until ammonia was depleted. It did not interfere with the ability to detect hydrazine, as this detection was done by inserting a probe up into the throat of each thruster. The ammonia boiler would not have interfered with that. Having said that, the vehicle only had something like 1/2 hour of Ammonia remaining after coming to a stop on a typical landing.]’
‘The stagnant air in the crew module was in really bad shape before very long.’
Photo credit: Carla Thomas, NASA