Valery Vladimirovich Polyakov
Valery Vladimirovich Polyakov
Dr. Valery Vladimirovich Polyakov—physician, researcher, and cosmonaut—holds the record for human longevity in space. In 1994-95 Polyakov spent 437 days and 17 hours in space, the longest uninterrupted time by an individual human being. His total space time (678.7 days) is second only to fellow cosmonaut Sergei Vasilyevich Avdeyev (1956- ).
Polyakov was born April 27, 1942, in the town of Tula, located in the Russian Republic of the former Soviet Union. After completing high school, Polyakov went to Moscow, where he received a medical degree in 1965 from the I. M. Sechenov Medical Institute. He has taught and conducted research in leading Russian medical and biological institutes, as well as the Russian Mission Control Center in Moscow. In 1972 Polyakov was selected to become a cosmonaut and began a rigorous training program at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center. At the same time he continued his work as a medical researcher, expanding his focus to the biological effects of space travel and emergency medicine.
Polyakov participated in two space flights, each of which involved long-term stays aboard Mir, the orbital space station launched by the Soviet Union on February 20, 1986. His main responsibilities were to conduct life science experiments and monitor the health of the other cosmonauts. Polyakov first went into space in 1988 as a research cosmonaut and flight engineer for the Soyuz TM-6 mission. Previously he had been a member of the backup crew for the Soyuz T-3 and Soyuz T-10 space flights in 1980 and 1984.
On August 29, 1988, Polyakov and two others were transported to Mir, where he remained for 240.94 days, returning April 27, 1989. While on board Mir, Polyakov joined with French astronaut Jean-Loup Chretien (1938- ) to conduct 22 days of joint French-Soviet science and medical experiments. Polyakov also participated in the first successful Ham Radio transmissions, which enabled Soviet cosmonauts to make contacts with amateur radio operators all over the world.
During his second trip into space, Polyakov shattered the old space-flight record of 365 days set in 1988. This time he lived on Mir for 437.7 days, from January 8, 1994, to March 22, 1995. The aim of his extended stay in space was to investigate the effects of long-term weightlessness on the human body, particularly the loss of bone and muscle density. Polyakov directed experiments involving his fellow cosmonauts that measured physiological reactions to exercise and the effect of microgravity on vision. Memorable moments of his second mission included the first rendezvous of the U.S. Space Shuttle Discovery with Mir, which occurred in February 1995, and the arrival on March 14, 1995, of Norman Thagard (1943- ), the first American to board the Russian space station.
Polyakov's capacity to endure a long period in space has significant implications for future aerospace projects, including manned voyages to Mars. Polyakov's successful experiments proved that humans could endure a two- or three-year mission to Mars, and be able to function on the planet after the long flight, estimated to be at least 160 days. Polyakov maintained a strict exercise regimen, which ranged from 90 minutes to three hours daily. At the conclusion of his mission, the 52-year-old cosmonaut was in excellent condition. Remarkably, rather than having to be carried from the ship as was often the case for those returning from space, upon landing Polyakov was able to walk with help to a chair a few feet from the spacecraft, and within one day he was jogging.
Polyakov is a published author and the recipient of numerous awards both at home and abroad. In 1989 he was made a Hero of the Soviet Union. In 1995 he was honored for his contribution to the field of aerospace by the Aviation Week and Space Technology annual Aerospace Laurels. In 1996 Polyakov was inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame.
Polyakov is married with two children and resides in Russia. Though no longer active in the Russian space program, he has been an ardent spokesman and supporter of the financiallystrapped Russian space program and the space station Mir, as well as space travel in general.
ELAINE M. MACKINNON