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Space Rose Perfume

A rose growing aboard the space shuttle resulted in a brand-new fragrance.

Image courtesy of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center

Gertrude Stein wrote in 1913 that "a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose." However, a rose in space is apparently not the same as a rose on Earth. In 1998, researchers at the Wisconsin Center for Space Automation and Robotics, a NASA Commercial Space Center, developed a special growing chamber called Astroculture. The Astroculture provides plants with the right levels of nutrition, light, humidity and heat to survive during space missions. A fragrance industry company, International Flowers & Fragrances (IFF), thought that the Astroculture was the perfect way to find out how the scent of a rose changed in space. Although researchers already knew that microgravity caused biological changes in plants, nobody had researched how it impacted the production of volatile oils, which give flowers their scent.

IFF chose a miniature rose variety called Overnight Scentsation for the experiment, using a seven-inch plant that would easily fit in the small 17 by 9 by 21 inch (43.2 by 22.9 by 53 centimeter) Astroculture chamber. On Oct. 28, 1998, the rose was launched aboard space shuttle Discovery flight STS-95. During the mission, the two buds on the plant bloomed, and astronauts sampled the rose's volatile oils several times by touching a special wand to the blossoms.

After IFF analyzed the samples, they discovered that the rose produced less volatile oils in space. According to former IFF researcher Braja Mookherjee, the scent was also a more "floral rose aroma" than usual [source: NASA]. From this scent, IFF created a commercial perfume note called space rose, which has been used in Shisedo Cosmetics' perfume ZEN.

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