Vande Hei said cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev and Sergey Korsakov were caught off guard by the controversy over their spacesuits.
“All three were associated with the same university, and I think they were a little bit surprised by that,” he told a news conference.
Vande Hei said he did not shy away from talking about the war with his fellow ISS crew members.
“They weren’t very long discussions, but I asked them how they felt and sometimes I asked direct questions, but our focus was on our mission together.”
His return from the ISS was highly anticipated and drew unprecedented attention due to rising geopolitical tensions fueled by the head of the Russian space agency, Dmitry Rogozin, who made several social media posts directed at the United States.
This included Rogozin retweeting a partially animated video that appeared to threaten that Russian astronauts would abandon Vande Hei in space. Rogozin was also involved in a Twitter feud with retired NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who held the record for the longest stint in space by an American astronaut until Vande Hei surpassed him.
Vande Hei said he found out about his wife’s tweets. “I never perceived those tweets as something to take seriously,” she said, adding that she saw them as directed at a “different audience” besides him.
“I just didn’t spend a lot of emotional energy paying attention to it. I heard about it. I laughed and moved on,” he said.
NASA said that “the professional relationship between our international partners, astronauts and cosmonauts continues for the safety and mission of all aboard the ISS.”
Russian crewmates ‘dear friends’
Vande Hei refused to reveal how the Russians on board felt about the Ukraine invasion. “Those are things I’d rather you share directly than me share how you feel about it,” he said.
He said the invasion itself was “heartbreaking, very sad” and felt “helpless” to learn of it while living in space. Vande Hei said that did not change his feelings towards his Russian crewmates.
“They were, are and will continue to be very dear friends of mine. We support each other through everything. And I never had any concerns about my ability to continue working with them.”
Landing after his unprecedented mission, Vande Hei said he was able to walk after about eight hours, although he said he was wobbly.
He said he was also happy to eat some guacamole for the first time in a year and was surprised at how normal it felt to be back on Earth after so much time in space.
“It’s a little disappointing how normal it feels.”
CNN’s Rachel Crane and Ross Levitt contributed to this report.