He has never pulled out a diving suit or been in space. But in his laboratory with a thousand bottles near Toulouse, the “aroma sculptor” Michaël Moisseeff has at the request of the Cité de l’Espace reconstituted the smell … of the moon.
Floral shirt and white hair tied back, this 66-year-old trained geneticist has dedicated his life to dissecting the mysteries of the smell and producing all kinds of scents, odors and emanations from molecules.
“To recreate the smell of a growth, for example, you have to go there first. Is there moss? Lichen? Moisture? I take an inventory and combine my elements as a painter with his color palette, then work with proportions to try so much as possible to be in the finesse, details the aromatician.
But for the moon, the Cité de l̵
The only possibility for this “aroma sculptor”, as he defines himself, is to absorb the descriptions of various astronauts who walked on the moon, especially Niel Armstrong.
“Due to the lack of oxygen on the moon, he obviously could not smell anything, but once back in the module, the smell of dust that stuck to his diving suit reminded him of the burnt black powder of old (rifle) six shots,” he said.
– Carbon and sulfur labels –
How do I reproduce it? Mr. Moisseeff decides to detonate black powder himself in his own pots. After several failed attempts and as many fears, he managed to “catch” a burned deposit.
Since that scent is in mind, the modern alchemist has collected several elements in his laboratory for a result with metallic, carbonaceous and sulfur notes that title the nostrils and the imagination.
The noses of more than a million visitors have rubbed shoulders with the Cité de l’Espace in Toulouse – Europe’s leader in spreading space and astronomical culture to the public – 2009 for the first time since then since 2019 for the exhibition dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the first human moon.
“This enigmatic smell, which is reproduced from the descriptions of some astronauts, evokes scents known as gunpowder or a fireplace, but that does not mean we find it on the moon,” tempts Xavier Penot, scientific mediator at the Cité de l’Espace and the origin of the idea.
– “Individual feeling” –
“And above all, what’s interesting is that not everyone feels the same way,” he adds.
“An odor is when a molecule encounters a sensor in your odor feed and generates a signal that will give you a feeling inside you,” Moisseeff explains.
“And this feeling is completely individual, depending on the genetics and the experience of each one,” he adds, stating that humans have about 260 olfactory sensors.
This Parisian origin, who decided forty years ago to lay down his suitcases in the southwest so that his daughter “grows up far from pollution”, has since worked tirelessly on the development of odor culture with the great public.
“Smell is like in music, you have to make your scales all the time,” he says.
With his nose always in action, this “scientific artist” has designed installations and fragrant experiences for years in telephone booths, entire villages or performance halls at the request of museums, associations or companies and runs events. “odor testing” training and workshops.
His next challenge? “Reconstructing the scent of the Mona Lisa,” that is, a perfume from the Renaissance period, “a careful work of investigation and historical research,” he says with excitement.