Three Russian cosmonauts arrived safely at the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday, docking their Soyuz capsule with the outpost for a mission that continues a 20-year shared Russian-US presence in orbit despite tensions over Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
"Congratulations on the successful docking," a voice from Russia's mission control said moments later, according to an English translator speaking during a live NASA webcast of the event.
About 2-1/2 hours later, after the passageway between the station and Soyuz was pressurized, two sets of hatches were opened and the three smiling Soyuz astronauts, dressed in yellow flight suits, floated head-first, one by one, into the ISS. upon their arrival, the cosmonauts were greeted warmly by four Americans, two Russians and a German crewmate already aboard.
"Sometimes yellow is just yellow," Roscosmos's press service said on its Telegram channel.
"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."
Roscosmos Director-General Dmitry Rogozin was more acerbic, saying on his personal Telegram channel that Russian cosmonauts had no sympathy for Ukrainian nationalists.
In a live-streamed news conference from the ISS on Friday, veteran cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev, the mission commander, was asked about the suits.
"Every crew picks a colour that looks different. It was our turn to pick a colour," he said. "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."
On Saturday evening, he was quoted on Roscosmos's Telegram channel as saying the suits had been made six months ago, and that the three cosmonauts had chosen the colours of their alma mater.
"Colour is just colour. It has nothing to do with Ukraine," he said. "In these days, even though we are in space, we are together with our president and people!"
Russia invaded Ukraine, which has a blue and yellow flag, on Feb. 24. The ensuing fighting has killed thousands of people, devastated parts of cities and caused millions of Ukrainians to flee their homes, according to the United Nations.
Rogozin has suggested that US sanctions imposed in response to the invasion could destroy ISS teamwork and lead to the space station falling out of orbit.
Officials at the US space agency, NASA, have said US and Russian crew members are aware of events on Earth but that their work has not been affected by geopolitical tensions.