Since the early days of space exploration, several astronauts have spent significant time in space. Russian cosmonaut Valeri Vladimirovich Polyakov holds the record for completing the longest single stay in space. He spent 14 months; or more precisely 437 days and 18 hours, living on Mir, the Russian space station. Polyakov received an array of awards and distinctions for his work in space including Hero of the Russian Federation, Hero of the Soviet Union, the Prince of Asturias Award, the Order of Lenin, and Kazakhstan’s Order of Parasat. Polyakov retired in 1995 and is now the Deputy Director of the Ministry of Public Health. He is also a member of the Russian Chief Medical Commission.
Valeri Polyakov was born on April 27, 1942, in the Russian industrial city of Tula. A medical doctor by trade, the future cosmonaut studied at the I. M. Sechenov 1st Moscow Medical Institute. After getting his degree, he attended the Institute of Medical and Biological Problems, Ministry of Public Health in Moscow where he studied astronautics medicine.
After being chosen as a cosmonaut, Polyakov’s first space flight took place in 1988 as a crew member on Soyuz TM-6 which launched on August 29, 1988. On this initial mission, Polyakov served as both a research doctor and a flight engineer. In total the cosmonaut spent 240 days aboard the Mir space station doing research. He returned to Earth on April 27, 1989, aboard the Soyuz TM-7 spacecraft.
In 1994, Polyakov was a crew member on the Soyuz TM-18 mission. The January 8th transport mission was launched at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, located in southern Kazakhstan. The crew was made up of three cosmonauts; Commander Viktor Afanasyev, Flight Engineer Yury Usachov, and Research Cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov. It was the second trip into space for Afanasyev and Polyakov and the first such journey for Usachov.
During this landmark mission, Polyakov spent his time conducting experiments and doing research. In total the cosmonaut spent some 437 days aboard the Mir space station; making more than 7,000 orbits of the Earth. The mission ended March 22, 1995, when Polyakov returned to Russia aboard the Soyuz TM-20 crew transport.
One of the main reasons Polyakov wanted to go to space was to understand the effects Micro-g environment (or micro-gravity) on the human body throughout a long term space mission. In particular, scientists were interested in obtaining this data because of its implications on future trips to Mars. With that in mind, Polyakov was medically assessed before, during, and after his historic space mission. The results indicated that the cosmonaut had experienced no significant changes to his cognitive functioning apart from a downturn in his mood which took place during both the first weeks of the mission as well as upon his return to Earth. Because of this research, experts have been able to conclude that in the not too distant future, human space travelers should be able to maintain a stable emotional state as well as normal cognitive functioning during long term extended missions to destinations such as Mars.
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