He spent 240 days on the Mir space station for the Soviet Union in 1988, then another 437 days for Russia in 1994, because his space adventures transcend petty things like "Earth politics" (which must have looked particularly petty from where he could see them). Sealing someone in a tin can for over a year sounds like a recipe for a psychological horror movie, and has been, several times, but Polyakov wanted to prove that the human mind could take it. Extended stays in space can also cause loss in muscle mass and bone density, but a specialized workout program meant that Polyakov Rocky-ed his way through it.
After a year in space, returning to full gravity must have felt like the Earth was on him, instead of the other way around, but Valeri insisted on walking from the capsule to the chair provided just to show how much the human body could take. His first actions on the ground were to tell people that, when humanity really wants to, it can be the most awesome thing in existence.
Reuters via Washington Post
NASA astronaut Norman Thagard reported that Polyakov looked "like he could wrestle a bear," which is both a compliment and a kickass truth about Russian space training. Wrestling grizzlies in space? If the next Die Hard has to be Russian, that should be the plot.
Polyakov is likely to hold the record for longest stay in space until someone actually takes him up on his dare to fly to the red planet. The astronomical unit is the distance from the Earth to the sun, and he flew two of them just to prove a point. He traveled 300 million kilometers in a tin can to challenge the entire human race to get moving again.
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For more spectacular space ass-kicking, check out 12 Pictures of Space You Won't Believe Aren't Photoshopped and 6 Badass Spacecraft Landings Humanity Totally Nailed.