The Daily Telegraph

Cosmonaut who held the record for the longest stint in space


VALERI POLYAKOV, the cosmonaut, who has died aged 80, entered the record books in 1995 after spending 437 days and 18 hours – nearly 14 months – aboard the Mir space station, with more than 7,000 Earth orbits; his trip remains the longest single stay in space.

Polyakov, an expert in space medicine, had volunteere­d for the recordbrea­king trip in order to understand how the human body responds to long periods of weightless­ness, for such future projects as a possible manned mission to Mars.

Launched on January 8 1994 aboard a Soyuz rocket, Polyakov carried out scientific experiment­s and research, keeping fit by performing intensive exercises on Mir’s cycling machine. He also took supplement­s to compensate for the calcium deficiency that prolonged space flight causes.

Back on Earth on March 22 1995 after his Soyuz module touched down in the steppes of Kazakhstan, Polyakov refused to be carried from the spacecraft, as is usual to acclimatis­e astronauts and cosmonauts to Earth’s gravity. Instead, looking pale and unsteady, but otherwise healthy, he walked a short distance to a nearby chair and insisted that he felt “all right” as he was subjected to initial medical tests.

Norman Thagard, the first American astronaut to join the Mir space station, who returned to Earth with Polyakov, described him as “big and strong and looks like he could wrestle a bear”.

Researcher­s later reported that Polyakov had experience­d a clear decline in mood as well as a feeling of “increased workload” during the first few weeks of his space mission, though his mood stabilised to pre-flight levels between the second and 14th month. Nor did he suffer from any prolonged impairment in physical or mental performanc­e. It was, Polyakov reflected later, “better not to count how much time has passed, but how much remains”.

While Nasa and its astronauts tend to be somewhat coy on the subject of sex, Polyakov had no such inhibition­s, explaining that he had been told by psychologi­sts to take a sex doll with him, and that the space station had dirty movies available. “No need to say what we are longing for,” he told Mission Control shortly before his return.

He was born Valeri Ivanovich Korshunov on April 27 1942, in Tula, an industrial town south of Moscow, but changed his name to Valeri Vladimirov­ich Polyakov when he was adopted in 1959. After medical school he specialise­d in space medicine and was selected as a cosmonaut in 1972.

During his first space mission, from August 1988 to April 1989, he spent 240 days on Mir, an achievemen­t for which he was made a “Hero of the Soviet Union”.

He retired as a cosmonaut in June 1995, and his record for the combined longest time in space of 678.69 days was only broken in 1999 when Sergei Avdeyev clocked up 747 days – but over three missions rather than Polyakov’s two.

Polyakov remained involved in space as deputy director of Moscow’s ministry of public health, overseeing medical research for Mars missions. He regarded it as “only a matter of time” before cosmonauts colonise Mars, though he warned that anyone making the journey to the red planet would probably be rendered sterile by radiation.

Polyakov published several works on the medical aspects of space travel. He was appointed a Hero of the Russian Federation and was a member of the Russian chief medical commission, involved in the selection of cosmonauts. He was also a member of the Internatio­nal Academy of Astronauti­cs.

His other honours include the Order of Lenin and the French Légion d’honneur.

He was married with one child.

Valeri Polyakov, born April 27 1942, died September 19 2022

 ?? ?? Expert in space medicine
Expert in space medicine

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