About a month ago, Russian forces invaded Ukraine, placing NATO on high alert and creating a shock wave felt around the world. One place that has been particularly resilient to the effects of this conflict is the International Space Station (ISS). Even as tensions mount and the heads of space agencies engage in an online war of words, astronauts and cosmonauts continue to work and live together in orbit.

On the other hand, there have been some clear attempts to drag the ISS into political turmoil. Case in point: the recent photo that shows three Russian cosmonauts wearing bright yellow and blue jumpsuits, the colors of the Ukrainian flag! Depending on who you ask, this was either a display of unity with the people of Ukraine or just a coincidence. Opinions vary, but this was likely nothing more than oddly fortuitous.

The image began circulating online as of Friday, March 18th. People were quick to respond on social media, with some claiming the colors were a deliberate statement about the war and others dismissing it right out the gate. As with anything that comes to our attention via social media and comes to dominate the news cycle, it is important to separate speculation and politics from what is established as fact.

NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei stares through the ISS cupola window at the Soyuz spacecraft that will take him home on March 30th. Credit: NASA

What We Know

As part of Expedition 66, the three cosmonauts – Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev, and Sergey Korsakov – will spend the next six months aboard the ISS as part of a crew already consisting of two Russian cosmonauts, four Americans, and one German astronaut. Veteran cosmonaut Artemyev was the commander of the flight (Soyuz MS-21/67S), whereas Matveev and Korsakov were relative newcomers.

They launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 11:55 AM EDT (08:55 AM PDT) on Friday, March 18th, aboard the Soyuz MS-21 spacecraft. They rendezvoused eight minutes and 45 seconds later with the new Russian module (Nauka) aboard the ISS. Shortly after they emerged from their spacecraft, they stood for a photo-op with the members of Expedition 65: Kayla Barron, Raja Chari, Pyotr Dubrov, Anton Shkaplerov, Mark Vande Hei, Matthias Maurer, and Thomas Marshburn.

Artemyev, Matveev, and Korsakov are replacements for two Russian cosmonauts and an American astronaut – Dubrov, Shkapleroc, and Vande Hei – who will be heading home at the end of the month. For Vande Hei and Dubrov, who participated in Expeditions 64 and 65, their return to Earth will close out a record-setting flight. Having arrived at the ISS on April 9th, 2021, the pair will have spent 354 days in space.

Upon arrival at the ISS, Artemyev, Matveev, and Korsakov were welcomed by their colleagues with hugs. The occasion was live-streamed on NASA TV, and images taken by Roscosmos were made public shortly thereafter. In one image, we see the three cosmonauts standing with their colleagues – (left to right) Kayla Barron, Raja Chari, Pyotr Dubrov, Anton Shkaplerov, Mark Vande Hei, Matthias Maurer, and Thomas Marshburn – flanking them.

Artemyev, Matveev, and Korsakov all wore bright yellow jumpsuits with blue name tags, Expedition 66 patches, and the Russian flag emblazoned across the right breast.

Cosmonaut Sergey Korsakov is welcomed aboard the International Space Station with a hug from NASA astronaut Kayla Barron and the rest of the Expedition 66 crew. Credit: NASA TV

“Sometimes Yellow Color is Just a Yellow Color”

First and foremost, this is NOT the first time that cosmonauts have worn this type of jumpsuit. Artemyev himself has worn the same uniform when visiting the ISS in the past. In an image posted to Twitter back in 2015, we see Aetemyev standing before the ISS Cupola in an identical yellow jumpsuit with blue patches and the Russian flag emblazoned across the chest.

Artemyev himself jokingly indicated that the motivations
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