Rumors began swirling through the Western media on Friday after Russian cosmonauts arrived at the International Space Station wearing yellow and blue uniforms. The reports said they had chosen the colors to show their solidarity with the people of Ukraine.
Given Russian President Vladimir Putin’s level of intolerance, this was considered to be an extremely audacious act.
Three Russian cosmonauts arrived at the International Space Station last night in flight suits made in the yellow and blue of the Ukrainian flag, in what appeared to be a daring statement against the war https://t.co/iBEGV12e63
— The Times (@thetimes) March 19, 2022
Three Russian cosmonauts boarded the International Space Station wearing yellow and blue suits — the colors of Ukraine’s flag.https://t.co/ov5gIZCovc
— NPR (@NPR) March 19, 2022
So cool. Three Russian Cosmonauts arrived on the International Space Station wearing the national colors of Ukraine in solidarity. 🌻🇺🇦 pic.twitter.com/FP2O0ZkRIq
— Ricky Davila 🌻🇺🇦 (@TheRickyDavila) March 19, 2022
In addition to the obvious risk for the cosmonauts’ personal safety and potential loss of freedom, the uniforms are not predominantly yellow and blue. They are primarily yellow. The blue trim is not a striking feature of the suit.
Additionally, the Russian flag is prominently displayed not once, but twice, on each uniform. It appears on the front and on the left shoulder.
And although it might have been possible, it’s hard to imagine the cosmonauts could have slapped these specialized suits together on such short notice to put up a protest.
Regardless, it comes as no surprise that officials at Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, and Russian media outlets acted quickly to quash the speculation that had gone viral on social media.
According to CNN, Roscosmos Director-General Dmitry Rogozin posted photographs of several Western media reports on the organization’s Telegram channel, and wrote: “Here some bandit cowards and their Anglo-Saxon sponsors don’t know what else to come up with in their information war against Russia.”
He also pointed out that the cosmonauts were wearing the colors of their alma mater.
Rogozin wrote, “The flight suits of the new crew are made in the colours of the emblem of the Bauman Moscow State Technical University, which all three cosmonauts graduated from … To see the Ukrainian flag everywhere and in everything is crazy.”
A second official from the agency posted on Telegram: “Sometimes the color yellow is just the color yellow. The flight suits of the new crew were designed to match the colors of the emblem of Bauman Moscow State Technical University, from where all three cosmonauts graduated. The design of the uniforms was coordinated long before the current events. Seeing the Ukrainian flag everywhere and in everything is just a clinic [in propaganda].”
Reuters reported that the mission commander, Oleg Artemyev, was questioned about the uniform colors during a live-streamed news conference from the International Space Station on Friday. He replied, “Every crew picks a color that looks different. It was our turn to pick a color.”
According to CNN, he jokingly added, “The truth is, we had accumulated a lot of yellow fabric, so we needed to use it up. That’s why we had to wear yellow flight suits.”
Statements from NASA astronauts, both of whom have traveled to the ISS on Soyuz spacecraft, support the explanations of their Russian counterparts.
One current astronaut told CNN (emphasis added): “For Soyuz flights, typically the crew meets with the company that makes the suits months before flight and they are allowed two custom suits. Typically, one suit is the same across the crew, and the second suit is something personal.”
A former NASA astronaut said, “I think it would be a real challenge to make and launch these (flight suits) last minute. Not impossible though.”
Although Russian officials and state media have a strong interest in denying the cosmonauts were showing support for the Ukrainians, I tend to believe them in this case. The cosmonauts’ choice of suit was not a protest against Putin.
CNN reports that the cosmonauts, who will remain on board the ISS for the next six and a half months, received a warm welcome from those who had come before them. The group includes two Russians, four Americans and one European.
The conviviality among the men suggests they’d left their politics behind — on earth.
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