Three Russian cosmonauts wearing yellow flight suits with blue accents arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday, a move that has led to speculation that they were purposefully wearing Ukraine colors.
The Associated Press reported the three cosmonauts were the first to arrive on the ISS since Russia invaded Ukraine in late January.
“Russian space corporation Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveyev and Sergey Korsakov blasted off successfully from the Russia-leased Baikonur launch facility in Kazakhstan in their Soyuz MS-21 spacecraft at 8:55 p.m. Friday (11:55 a.m. EDT). They smoothly docked at the station just over three hours later, joining two Russians, four Americans and a German on the orbiting outpost,” the AP reported.
Artemyev was first seen wearing a blue flight suit when the Russian spacecraft docked with the ISS, but he and his crew then changed into yellow flight suits. The AP reported that it was “unclear what, if any, message the yellow uniforms they changed into were intended to send.”
For his part, Artemyev claimed it was just a coincidence that his crew wore yellow flight suits at this particular moment, saying that each crew chooses their own flight-suit colors.
“It became our turn to pick a color. But in fact, we had accumulated a lot of yellow material so we needed to use it. So that’s why we had to wear yellow,” he said after being asked about the suits.
Earlier this month, many became concerned with the fate of American astronaut Mark Vande Hei, who was in the ISS when Russia first invaded Ukraine. Vande Hei has been in space for nearly a year and was scheduled to return on a Russian capsule, but the war between Russia and Ukraine – and the United States’ position – put that into question.
NASA, however, said Vande Hei would still return in the Russian capsule, the AP reported on March 14.
“Vande Hei — who on Tuesday breaks the U.S. single spaceflight record of 340 days — is due to leave with two Russians aboard a Soyuz capsule for a touchdown in Kazakhstan on March 30. The astronaut will have logged 355 days in space by then, setting a new U.S. record. The world record of 438 continuous days in space belongs to Russia,” the AP reported.
Retired NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, America’s former record holder, returned his Russian medal for space exploration to the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., the outlet noted. Despite this, Kelly said Russia and the U.S. can continue to work together in space.
“We need an example set that two countries that historically have not been on the most friendly of terms, can still work somewhere peacefully. And that somewhere is the International Space Station. That’s why we need to fight to keep it,” Kelly told the AP.
The U.S. and Russia are the primary operators of the ISS, and American astronauts routinely return to Earth on Russian capsules.