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Increased isopropyl alcohol detected at ISS following Dragon docking

The Russian press today announced that there was a significant increase in the amount of isopropyl alcohol detected in the atmosphere of ISS following docking and opening of the hatch of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule.

While obviously this needs to be investigated, there are several details the Russian press leaves out. First, what normally happens when a manned capsule or new module arrives and the hatch opens? I suspect we always see a jump in readings for a wide range of atmospheric components. Second, what harm does this increase in ispropyl alcohol have to the station, its experiments, or its occupants? I suspect none, though obviously if it could be avoided that would be better.

Once again, we need to be aware that the Russians motives here might not be entirely pure. They have political and economic reasons to work against a success by SpaceX, and articles such as this reflect that. Issues like this of course need to be checked out and fixed if possible or necessary, but the goal of this article might not be that at all.

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  • M Puckett

    The Russians wouldn’t complain if it was ethyl alcohol.

    As long as Dragon doesn’t get any ‘speed holes’ in it like Soyuz.

  • Richard M

    I understand the logic that prevailed in bringing the Russians into the ISS in 1993. Without the political cover of a Russian partnership (and the need to keep all their engineers from decamping to Tehran or Pyongyang), it might not have gotten built. It barely squeaked through Congress as it was.

    But things like this underline to me the need to make sure that NASA’s next major HSF endeavor (whatever it is) does not include the Russians as anything more than very, very secondary partners. Of course, given the state of Roscomos, that probably is going to be the case anyway.

  • Kyle

    M Puckett,
    When I first read about those holes in Soyuz I was thinking “speed holes” too, but you forgot the set up to that scene. With Russia being a mob state, it would be a shame if Dragon ended up sleeping with da fishes on its return flight.

  • Jerry Lundergaard

    isopropyl alcohol can break down rubber. Its the reason that the alcohol in our automobile fuel in the US is bad for most motors long term unless they are flexfuel motors (I know thats a different type of alcohol than isopropyl). So it depends on the concentrations in the ISS and whether they can filter it down to not harmful levels.

  • mpthompson

    Is it possible that isopropyl alcohol has been used by Space X to clean surfaces within the Dragon 2 during construction? If so, what’s left over is reminiscent of a “new car” smell.

  • Edward

    It is certain that isopropyl alcohol (IPA) was used by Space X to clean surfaces within the Dragon 2 during construction. It is a common cleaning solvent in the space business; it is very volatile and dissipates quickly. However, because IPA is very volatile, it would have disbursed long before delivery to Kennedy Space Center. If, at launch, Dragon 2 had enough IPA in its air to be a problem in ISS, then the ground crew would have smelled it and flagged it as a problem before launch.

    I don’t know what they use for cleaning on ISS, but my immediate thought was that the IPA increase in ISS’s air was due to routine cleaning activity on board the station, making the news report much ado about nothing unusual.

  • Drunken Sailor

    They just want to say stuff to try to make space x take longer so Russia can keep charging for rides at a huge cost…

    This is the drill and the hole all over again.

  • Richard M

    Eric Berger today has a related story on this – and how it manifests Roscosmos’s passive aggressive reaction to Crew Dragon’s flight:

    Read it and weep.

  • Richard M: See the top post on BtB right this minute.

  • Richard M


    Great minds surf alike!

    Sad to see what has become of the once great Russian space program.

  • Dick Eagleson

    One of the first things the American and Canadian astronauts did after entering the Dragon 2 was to sample the air. The ISS obviously has at least some capability to analyze air samples for contaminants or there would have been no point in taking those samples and no way for the Russians to know – or allege to know – about the increased isopropyl alcohol concentration in station air. If the initial samples still exist, they could be sent back with the D2 when it departs the station and re-analyzed on the ground. If no inordinate level of isopropyl alcohol is found in the samples, that would be virtually conclusive proof that the Russians are either lying about what the levels actually are or – more likely, ordered Kononenko to release a bit of rubbing alcohol into the ISS air supply so they could lie bout the source instead.

    Russian leadership exclusively consists of liars and criminals. SpaceX has essentially wiped out ILS and is about to start costing Roscosmos additional hundreds of millions per year. The Russians are strongly motivated to do anything they can to create FUD where D2 is concerned. Roscosmos higher-ups still seem to think the hole in the Soyuz was American covert sabotage done on ISS. That, would, in their minds, amply justify some covert sabotage of their own. And Kononenko would have little choice except to follow orders. Until the U.S. commercial crew vehicles are cleared for human crews, there isn’t any way for a disaffected Russian astronaut to defect.

    Isopropyl alcohol, in any event, is a good red herring and not a long-term problem as the ISS’s activated charcoal filters should quickly remove any excess.

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