WHITE SANDS, N.M., April 24, 2005 — -- Next month, NASA is scheduled to launch its first shuttle mission in two years, but it won't do it without the help of one man and his nose.
George Aldrich has worked at NASA for 30 years doing a single job: According to him, he might be described as the agency's super sniffer, master sniffer, chief smeller or even its 'Nostril-damus.'
Aldrich smells everything that goes in the space shuttle to make sure it isn't nauseating. After all, you can't just open a window once you're in space.
"Astronauts could actually get sick from being subjected to obnoxious odors," Aldrich said.
Just ask the Russians. They had to abort a mission in 1976 because of some hideous stench. If only they'd had a "nasal-naut" like Aldrich.
Aldrich did not aspire to greatness as a "nasal-naut." His nose was discovered. Thirty years ago he was working as a firefighter at White Sands when NASA asked for sniffing volunteers.
Aldrich is a natural. He has never failed NASA's calibration test in which he must identify the seven primary odors — musky, minty, floral, ethereal, camphoraceous, pungent and putrid.
On the day ABC News visited, his mission was to smell a cork NASA hoped to use aboard the shuttle. A chemist used a syringe to pull air from a chamber holding the item, then shot the air into Aldrich's facemask.
The cork won his approval.
But some calls are tougher than others. The first woman in space, Sally Ride, wanted to take her mascara, but it was rejected.
"She had no mascara in space," Aldrich said. "Not that particular brand, anyway."
Word of his unusual skill has spread. He once appeared on "To Tell the Truth," introducing himself to contestants with the phrase, "My name is George Aldrich, and I have a job that stinks."
He also has served as a judge in OdorEaters' "rotten sneaker" contest.
But fame never interferes with his day job or his sense of duty.
"I feel like I'm a bodyguard for the astronauts," he said. "I'll smell it here, you know? I'll-take-the-bullet-type thing, before you actually are subjected to it."
He has now sniffed over 780 different materials. And he'll go on smelling for space, trying to ferret out the ripe stuff.
"I guess it's just a good, good nose," he said. "And it's been good for over 30 years."
ABC News' Judy Muller originally reported this story April 16, 2005, for "World News Tonight."