What are they trying to say?
Blue and Yellow
Is it a protest? Or an homage to the cosmonauts' alma mater? Hard to say, but one thing's for sure — the bright yellow and blue space suits three Russian cosmonauts wore to board the International Space Station yesterday were hard to miss, especially compared to the drab colors worn by the station's existing crew.
The crew launched early Friday in a Soyuz spacecraft and arrived at the ISS hours later. Video of the team entering the station show them wearing the colorful new suits, which look suspiciously similar to the colors of the Ukraine flag. As Russia's violent invasion of the country drives even more civilian casualties, some experts suspect the cosmonauts were showing support for the Ukrainian people — although others caution against rushing to judgment in a complex and eyebrow-raising situation.
Eric Berger, senior space editor at Ars Technica, tweeted yesterday that it's hard to say exactly who planned the fashion choice, but retweeted a translated statement from another space exploration fan who said a member of the crew riffed that there was simply too much yellow fabric in the warehouse that needed to be used. Berger said that could be a clever quip to distract from the political reality.
I still haven't found anyone who really knows why the Russian cosmonauts wore yellow flight suits (with Ukraine blue highlights) to board the ISS. However, this is a revealing answer from the mission commander. Just wild if they smuggled these suits on board. https://t.co/UBr1I0WauJ
— Eric Berger (@SciGuySpace) March 18, 2022
Back to School
Not everyone is convinced the Russians wanted to support Ukraine. Others hypothesize the suits could be paying respect to Bauman Moscow State Technical University. In a tweet yesterday, Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin celebrated the all-Russian crew who graduated from the college.
"All of them are graduates of the Bauman Moscow State Technical University," Rogozin said in an English translation provided by Google.
You might've guessed already, but the university's colors are blue and yellow. It's completely possible that's what the team was referencing with their new suits — although it's worth noting that Berger, who's one of the media's top experts on international space relations, pushed back against that theory.
Наши! Впервые за долгие годы - полностью российский экипаж. Причем все - выпускники Московского государственного технического университета имени Н. Э. Баумана. pic.twitter.com/E4XtbFxPMl
— РОГОЗИН (@Rogozin) March 18, 2022
The cosmonauts' stunt is admirable if it was indeed to support Ukraine, but if so they could be serious trouble or even danger. Rogozin has threatened both the US and Europe with a violent ISS crash over the conflict, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has been stifling anti-war demonstrations and arresting protestors. If the cosmonauts went off script, it'd be a particular affront to Rogozin, who in yet another open-to-interpretation remark bragged earlier this week that the incoming crew were in "fighting shape."
For now, Berger is keeping an open mind for explanations.
"With that said, orchestrating the fabrication of these flight suits, and getting them packed on board Soyuz during a late-load process, would have required a fair amount of traceable activity in Baikonur," he wrote. "Hopefully we can find out what really happened."
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