NASA's Mike Hopkins grins as he's helped from the Soyuz capsule near Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, on Tuesday.

Story highlights

American Mike Hopkins returns to Earth with Russian, Crimean cosmonauts

Even if U.S., Russia are at odds, space collaboration endures, NASA says

U.S. astronauts have no way to get to and from the International Space Station

In return, U.S. brings money, more advanced technology to table

CNN  — 

The American bears a broad grin, flashing an “OK” sign to the Russian support team tending to him after his descent from space. It’s not exactly the image of two countries at extreme odds over the Ukraine crisis.

But in the world of U.S.-Russian relations, space is impervious, as demonstrated by the joint effort to bring American astronaut Mike Hopkins and his cosmonaut counterparts, Soyuz Cmdr. Oleg Kotov, a native of Crimea, and fellow flight engineer Sergey Ryazanskiy, home to Earth.

The Soyuz TMA-10 spacecraft landed in Kazakhstan early Tuesday after the trio spent more than five months aboard the International Space Station, leaving the multinational astronaut delegation of Japan’s Koichi Wakata, America’s Rick Mastracchio and Russia’s Mikhail Tyurin to finish the orbital laboratory’s Expedition 39.

Those three are expected to return home in mid-May, after being joined by another international team: Steve Swanson (U.S.), Alexander Skvortsov (Russia) and Oleg Artemyev (Latvia) are in Star City, Russia, training for their March 25 launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, NASA says.

Kotov is a space veteran returning from his third mission and 526th day in space. Hopkins and Ryazanskiy are rookies. This mission marked their first 166 days in space, NASA says.

Hopkins conducted a pair of U.S. spacewalks for a total 12 hours and 58 minutes. Ryazanskiy conducted three Russian spacewalks during his mission working outside the station for 20 hours and five minutes.

On Earth, the United States may be trading bitter accusations with Russia over Ukraine, but in space, it’s a different story.