Russian cosmonaut Valery Ryumin, who embarked on four space station missions including the final US space shuttle flight to dock at the former Mir outpost, has died. He was 82.
Ryumin’s death on Monday (opens in new tab) (June 6) was confirmed in a statement by Russia’s federal space agency Roscosmos (opens in new tab).
“We lost a comrade and a friend,” said Dmitry Rogozin, director general of Roscosmos. “This is an irreparable loss for all of us. I express my deepest condolences to the family and friends of Valery Viktorovich. His memory will stay in our hearts forever.”
A member of the Russian Cosmonaut Corps since 1973, Ryumin has spent a total of 371 days in space over the course of two short missions and two record-breaking long-duration flights.
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On October 9, 1977, Ryumin took off on Soyuz 25, the first mission launched to the Soviet Salyut 6 space station. Ryumin and Mission Commander Vladimir Kovalyonok had prepared to spend 90 days aboard the orbiting module, but their Soyuz failed to reach a fixed dock. After five failed attempts, during which both energy and fuel supplies ran out, the two cosmonauts returned to Earth after just two days.
Ryumin’s second and third visits to Salyut 6 were far more successful. Both on Soyuz 32 and Soyuz 35 – launched February 25, 1979 and February 9, 1979 respectively (opens in new tab) on Soyuz 32 and Leonid Popov on Soyuz 35) set new space endurance records with 175 days and 185 days in space.
On Soyuz 32, Ryumin and Lyakhov spent the six months alone, the result of a docking error by a visiting crew and the ground controllers’ decision to launch an unmanned Soyuz for Ryumin and Lyakhov for their return to Earth. On Soyuz 35, Ryumin and Popov shared the station with eight visitors spread over four Soyuz flights, including the first Hungarian, Vietnamese and Cuban cosmonauts.
On both flights, Ryumin and his fellow cosmonauts conducted scientific experiments, including hatching quail eggs, testing radio and gamma-ray telescopes, and demonstrations of materials processing. Ryumin and Popov also took part in the 1980 Summer Olympics and performed live on a stadium scoreboard in Moscow.
By the end of his second Salyut visit on June 3, 1980, Ryumin had spent 352 days in space, more than any other cosmonaut or astronaut in the world at the time.
This could have been the end of Ryumin’s space career had he not had the opportunity to fly on the United States Space Shuttle 18 years later.
“After my three flights in the 1980s, I thought it would be nice to fly for the fourth time,” Ryumin said in a NASA oral history in April 1998, two months before his launch as part of the space shuttle’s STS-91 crew Discovery . “I thought it would be very useful for a person who has very good flight and life experience to visit [Mir] train station, the train station [which] was in orbit for more than 12 years. I think I can see more details and see more things compared to young cosmonauts or crew members.”
On June 4, 1998, Discovery docked with Mir, completing the ninth and final connection as part of Phase 1 of the International Space Station (ISS). Ryumin spent four days on the space station alongside NASA astronauts Charles Precourt, Dominic Gorie, Franklin Chang-Diaz, Wendy Lawrence and Janet Kavandi before returning home with astronaut Andrew Thomas, who completed 130 days on the station.
“I believe that the Phase 1 program is very useful and will be very useful for the future International Space Station,” Ryumin said. “We learned a lot during these joint operations during the Phase 1 program. We have learned to understand each other. We got to know the philosophies of the individual countries and met many people. I believe this is a very important step for our next second step, which will be ISS.”
Ryumin retired from the Russian Cosmonaut Corps shortly after landing on his fourth and final mission.
Valery Victorovich Ryumin was born on August 16, 1939 in the city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur in far eastern Russia. He graduated from the Kaliningrad Technical Institute of Mechanical Engineering in 1958, and in 1966 from the Department of Electronics and Computer Technology of the Moscow Institute of Forestry.
After a brief stint as a tank commander in the Army, Ryumin was hired by Rocket Space Corporation (RSC) Energia, where he rose from ground test engineer to deputy chief designer for orbital stations, department head and deputy general designer for tests.
“I had to work my way up from the low position. I started working in the department responsible for ground electrical test engineering. I was in charge of the spacecraft that was designed to orbit the moon, manned flight,” he told Ryumin. “We had planned and it was assumed that two crew members would fly around the moon.
However, this order ended within two years.
“At that time, in 1968, Americans had their first [flight to] the moon. Then there was no reason to continue with this program. This program was discontinued in late ’69. But at that moment we had the idea of creating a long-term station,” he said.
In his final roles, he oversaw the development and preparation of the Salyut-class space stations, to which he would later fly as a cosmonaut.
Between his three Salyut missions and his Space Shuttle launch, Ryumin served as flight director for the Salyut 7 and Mir space stations. In 1992 he was appointed Russian director of the joint Shuttle Mir program.
Ryumin was twice named Hero of the Soviet Union and received three Orders of Lenin and a medal “For Merit to Space Exploration” among other Russian and international honors.
He is survived by his wife and fellow cosmonaut Yelena Kondakova and three children, Viktoria, Vadim and Yevgeniya (the first two from his previous marriage to Natalya Ryumina).
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