Nikolai Nikolayevich Rukavishnikov (cyrillic Николай Николаевич Рукавишников) was born September 18, 1932 in the city of Tomsk, Russia. He attended the Moscow Engineering and Physics Institute and after graduation worked for Sergei Korolev's design bureau. He was selected for cosmonaut training in 1967. He was employed designing automatic and manual operated flight control systems.

His first assignment was to the two man teams training for a circumlunar flight. It is thought that he would have flown on the second such flight that could have launched May 1969. Also on board would have been Valeri Bykovskiy.

His first spaceflight was Soyuz 10, which launched April 23, 1971. It was meant to be the first space station flight, docking with Salyut 1 for a month long stay. It was manually docked after faillure of the automatic system, but hard docking could not be achieved because of the angle of approach. It was realised after the flight that the crew did not have the necessary equipment to ascertain their range and angle for a successful manual docking. Soyuz 10 was connected to the station for 5 hours and 30 minutes. They were forced to reenter and during the landing, the Soyuz air supply became toxic. The crew survived but Rukavishnikov did become unconscious during the descent through the atmosphere.

He was the then assigned to the prime crew for the next flight after Soyuz 11. It would have launched August 1971, and continued the experiments and studies that were conducted on the space station. What would have been Soyuz 12 was cancelled after the death of the Soyuz 11 crew during reentry.

On December 2, 1974, Soyuz 16 launched carrying Rukavishnikov and Anatoli Filipchenko. The flight was a test of the modernised Soyuz spacecraft that was to be used for the Apollo Soyuz Test Project flight. The results of the tests of the life support, docking, antenna deployment, and ground control systems were excellent, all things needed for the actual mission to succeed. Rukavishnikov was the assigned as the backup for the actual ASTP flight, Soyuz 19.

He was then assigned to the backup crew for the Soyuz 28 flight. This was the first time that a civilian had received the position of commander. Soyuz 28 was the first Intercosmos flight and carried a guest cosmonaut from the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic to the Salyut 6 space station.

Rukavishnikov last flight was Soyuz 33. Launched April 10, 1979 it carried Georgi Ivanov from Bulgaria. They were to dock with Salyut 6 for a week of experiments but problems developed. A day after launch the main engine developed a propulsion leak and shut down. Rukavishnikov decided to abort the mission and return to Earth. He decided to reenter as soon as possible and started a ballistic reentry, instead of the controllable reentry normally used by Soyuz and Apollo spacecraft. They landed on April 12. It was the first time that a spacecraft had been landed under manual control.

In all Rukavishnikov spent 9 days, 21 hours and 9 mintes in space over three missions.

He resigned from the space programme in 1987 and returned to work for the same bureau he started with, by then known as NPO-Energia (and now known as RSC-Energia).

He died of a heart attack on October 19, 2002. He was married with one son.