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Valeri Polykov, holder of the record’s longest stay in space, passes away

Valeri Polykov
Valeri Polykov

Russian astronaut Valeri Polykov, who holds the record for the longest spaceflight yet of any human in history, has passed away at the age of 80.

In 1994 and 1995 Polykov spent 437 days on Russia’s space station Mir, the equivalent of fourteen months and two weeks. His thoughts at launch, as he told me personally when I interviewed him while writing Leaving Earth, were not so confident:

“What if something goes wrong?” [he explained]. “I had sacrificed so much time. The government has spent so much, more than they can afford. And I’ve learned so much for them myself, for them.

“Better I die if something went wrong,” he thought. “Better if I had a gun to shoot myself.”

Nothing went wrong however. Polykov, a doctor, had pushed for this long mission to find out if it would be possible for a person to function after a year-plus of weightlessness upon arrival on Mars. Originally planned to last 18 months, circumstances eventually shortened it to 14 months-plus. When Polykov came home in March 1995, he managed to walk a few steps on his own, shortly after being removed from the capsule. To his mind, he had proved that a person could function on their own on Mars after such a long flight.

Others disagreed. As I wrote in Leaving Earth, though he was almost normal within a week of landing,

Polykov had come back to Earth very weak. For at least those first few hours, he needed help from those around him. Any spacefarer arriving on Mars after a year in space must be prepared to face that same challenge.

Regardless, Polykov, like Brian Binnie, was one of the early giants in space exploration. His contribution must not be forgotten.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News

One comment

  • Norbert Giesinger

    From the german Wikipedia:
    Waleri Wladimirowitsch Poljakow

    Валерий Владимирович Поляков, scientific transliteration Valerij Vladimirovič Poljakov;
    * 27. April 1942 in Tula, Oblast Tula, Russische SFSR; † on or before 19. September 2022
    Long missions Mir LD-2 and Mir LD-4 , total 678 days, 16 hours and 32 minutes in space.
    Flight with Sojus TM-18 to Mir and return after 437 days, 17 hours and 58 minutes with Sojus TM-20.
    Mission from January 8th 1994 to march 22nd 1995

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