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Space Sights, Smells Shock Rookie Discovery Astronauts

For rookie astronauts flying aboard the International Space Station, the food is good, the rocket thrusters are loud and there's an odd tang in the air — apparently from outer space.

"It's a very, very different environment than I expected," Discovery shuttle pilot Kevin Ford, a first-time spaceflyer, said from orbit late Friday.

One of things Ford wasn't ready for is the weird smell.

"From the [spacewalks] there really is a distinct smell of space when they come back in," Ford said from the station in a Friday night news conference. "It's like...something I haven't ever smelled before, but I'll never forget it. You know how those things stick with you."

In the past, astronauts have described the smell of space as something akin to gunpowder or ozone.

The sounds of spaceflight have also been surprising, especially when Discovery fires up its large maneuvering thrusters, Ford said.

"It definitely gives the shuttle a kick and you just feel a little twang throughout the whole orbiter when they're firing to keep you in position," he added.

Of the 13 astronauts aboard the International Space Station and docked shuttle, nearly half are taking their first trip to space. For some, it's a short trip aboard the shuttle, which blasted off last week with three rookies aboard.

Other first-time spaceflyers are on the station for the long haul. Some have already been there for months, so the term "rookie" barely applies.

"The food is wonderful," said rookie astronaut Nicole Stott, who arrived at the station Sunday on Discovery to begin a three-month stay. "Of course we have a mix from all the partners now."

The result, she said, is a sort of orbital smorgasbord that includes food from the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and Europe.

"I think you can find something for everyone," Stott said.

Discovery's seven-astronaut crew is in the middle of a 13-day mission to deliver fresh supplies and new science gear to the space station. The astronauts ferried Stott to the outpost to replace another NASA astronaut who will come home on the shuttle.

They also delivered a $5 million treadmill named after comedian Stephen Colbert.

Even some of Discovery's grizzled veterans were surprised by the life aboard the station, which is the $100 billion product of 16 different countries.

"It's really awesome to see all the work that's been achieved up here since our last flight," said Discovery commander Rick Sturckow, who is making his fourth flight to the station. "They've added a new solar array and some new modules. The station is something that all the international partners can be very proud of for their contributions."