Vladimir Vasilyevich Kovalyonok (cyrillic Владимир Васильевич Коваленок), Soviet cosmonaut, was born March 3, 1942 in the village of Beloye
. He was there throughout he childhood and attended the local secondary school. He then attended the Balashov Higher Military Flying School
from where he graduated from in 1963
. While there he became a member of the Communist Party
. He then flew military transport aircraft including the An-24
. By the time he was selected as a cosmonaut in 1967
he had 1600 hours flying, and was a paratroop instructor.
His first assignment was to the backup crew of Soyuz 18. This was a two month stay at Salyut 4 during which the crew imaged the Earth for resources, studied the Earth's atmosphere, did astrophysical studies in the X-Rays and made 600 images of the Sun. The mission was flown at the same time as the Apollo Soyuz Test Project. It was the second and last mission to Salyut 4.
Kovalyonok first flight was Soyuz 25. This was meant to be the first mission to dock with Salyut 5. However it was unable to achieve a hard dock due to a faulty mechanism on the Soyuz. As such the craft was only in orbit for two days.
He was then on the backup crews for Soyuz 26 and 27. Soyuz 26 was the first mission to dock with Salyut 6 and the crew performed the first Russian EVA since 1969. Soyuz 27 was launched and docked with Salyut 6 as well, making it the first time that three spacecraft had been joined together. The crew of Soyuz 27 only stayed for a week and reentered in the Soyuz 26 capsule.
The next mission for Kovalyonok was Soyuz 29, which started the second period of occupation for Salyut 6. During the stay of 140 days from June 15, 1978 until November 2, he and Aleksandr Ivanchenkev. One of the major milestones for the Russians during the flight was for the first time since 1965, they had more man hours in space than the Americans.
On July 29, the crew performed an EVA. This was to retrieve samples of materials stored on the exterior of Salyut 6 at launch to investigate the effects of the space environment on them. The main experiments on board were material processing, using the Splav and Kristall furnaces.
However a large part of the mission was propaganda as the second and third Intercosmos crews visited the station during their visit. Intercosmos was a program allowing Eastern Bloc and other Communist countries access to space. Part of it was allowing guest cosmonauts from these countries. On Soyuz 30 was Miroslav Hermaszewski from Poland and on Soyuz 31 was Sigmund Jahn from East Germany.
Also for the first time a crew did not return in spacecraft they launched in. The crew of Soyuz 31 returned to Earth in Soyuz 29, allowing the original crew of Soyuz 29 to stay in space longer than the lifetime of a single Soyuz would have allowed them.
Kovalyonok last flight was Soyuz T-4, launched March 12, 1981. He and Viktor Savinikh spent 74 days at the station in what was little more than constant repair. By this time the station was four years old and starting to show its age. The crew were mainly there to keep it going for further Intercosmos flights. During their stay Jugderdimidyn Gurragcha from Mongolia and Dmitriu Prunariu from Romania visited.
The Russians also docked Cosmos 1267 with the station. This was a TKS spacecraft designed for launching crews to the Almaz military space station. The program was cancelled due to rising costs. The docking created a spacecraft that had half the habitable volume and half the mass of Skylab.
In all Kovalyonok spent 216 days, 9 hours and 8 minutes in space over three missions. He also performed one EVA lasting 2 hours and 5 minutes.
After leaving the cosmonaut corps he entered politics in his home state (and then country) of Belarus, being elected as a People's Deputy from 1989 till 1992. After the end of his term in office he became a "Colonel General" (3-star) in charge of the Zhukovskiy Military Air Engineering Academy.
On November 21, 1995, the Russian army newspaper "Red Star" (Krasnaya Zvezda) published a front page article in which Kovalyonok stated he was against any Shuttle-Mir linkups. He felt that the Russians were selling out for some hard currency. He was quoted as saying:
I must admit that I shed a tear of regret when I heard the applause in the Flight Control Center following the shuttle's docking with Mir.
He was twice a Hero of the Soviet Union (by decrees of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR on November 2, 1978 and on May 26, 1981) and has three Orders of Lenin. He is also a Hero of the German Democratic Republic and a Hero of the Mongolian People's Republic. He is an honourary citizen of Kaluga, Perm, Kirov (Russia), Dzhezkazgan (Kazakhstan), Ulan-Bator, Darkhan (Mongolia).