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May 1, 2022
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Traditions of astronauts

The logic of any superstition is simple: if something was done in a certain way before an important event, and this event was successful, such an action should be repeated the next time – it brings good luck. The astronauts have traditions and superstitions that they follow strictly from the very beginning of navigation outside the Earth’s atmosphere.

Traditions of astronauts

Traditions of the cosmonauts of the USSR

Cosmonauts arriving at the Baikonur cosmodrome are always greeted in a special way. As they step off the plane to the sounds of a brass band, they follow a line of well-dressed women waving bright yellow-orange pompoms. The origin of this tradition is unknown, but not a single space flight is complete without a show with “golden pom-poms”.

Two special rituals precede the astronauts’ flight. In the Cosmonaut Training Center (Star City) there is a memorial dedicated to the memory of Yuri Gagarin and the pilots who died during space missions. This is where space crew members bring red carnations before their flight. There is also a “living monument” in Baikonur – the alley of cosmonauts, where each astronaut has a personally planted, personalized seedling. Yury Gagarin’s tree has been growing on this alley for more than 60 years.

USSR cosmonaut

Customs that our astronauts observe just before the flight:

  1. In the evening, before the launch, the cosmonauts traditionally watch the film “White Sun of the Desert”, filmed according to the script by Mark Zakharov. This tradition is connected with the tragic events in the history of Soviet cosmonautics. In 1971, at the end of the flight, the crew of the Soyuz-11 spacecraft died. The next flight went off without a hitch, and when its participants admitted that they had watched The White Sun the day before it started, the film became a kind of amulet, and watching it before launch was an obligatory ritual.
  2. At the Baikonur hotel, where space crew members spend the night before launch, they leave autographs on the doors of their rooms. These inscriptions cannot be erased.
  3. According to the tradition of Soviet cosmonauts, which is still observed today, the trip of crew members to the launch pad is always accompanied by the song “Grass near the House”, performed by the Zemlyane group.
  4. A somewhat strange, but very old tradition, still inherent in military pilots of the Great Patriotic War, is to urinate on the rear wheel of a car on the way to the cosmodrome. It is said that Gagarin did the same on his way to the launch pad, and even female cosmonauts follow this tradition: they splash the contents of a vial specially prepared for this purpose onto the wheel.
  5. Video footage of the spacecraft taking off shows a small plush toy hanging from its dashboard. This is both a talisman and an “assistant” – when the ship goes into orbit, the toy serves as an indicator of the onset of weightlessness, “floating up” above the dashboard.

White sun of desert

Certain traditions are also observed by the organizers of the flight, from its Chief Executive Officer to the locomotive driver delivering the rocket from the hangar to the launch site:

  1. When the train transporting the spacecraft approaches the launch pad, a few coins are placed on the rails, which are flattened by the wheels. This ritual is believed to bring good luck. Crew members should not be present when the rocket is taken to the launch site, this is considered a bad omen.
  2. When the rocket is already on the launch pad, an Orthodox priest blesses it and blesses the crew.
  3. The General Designer Korolyov had a superstitious attitude towards flights. He considered Monday a “non-starting” day, justifying this by the fact that the largest number of accidents falls on this day of the week. Korolev also had a “happy” operator – Nikolai Smirnitsky. Only the Chief Designer trusted him to press the “Start” button, believing that Captain Smirnitsky had a “light hand”.

Sergei Korolev

Traditions of foreign astronauts

Now representatives of many countries are flying into space, Americans, Brazilians, Chinese, Israelis, Indians have already been there. Every nation has its own traditions of astronauts before the flight.

Americans have no less rituals “for good luck” than Russians:

  1. On the last evening before launch, the astronauts play poker, and the game continues until the ship’s commander loses. They say that in this way he will leave all the troubles at the card table.
  2. The song “Return to Houston” performed by Dean Martin wakes up the astronauts before the flight.
  3. For breakfast, pilots are served beef steak with scrambled eggs, as this was the dish that Alan Shepard ate on his suborbital flight.
  4. Before putting on spacesuits in a special room, the space crew members must sit for a couple of minutes in chairs that have been preserved here since the first Apollo launches.
  5. After the successful landing of the spacecraft, astronauts who have flown for the first time have the end of their tie cut off, a tradition that comes from aviation.

Apollo

Of the superstitions among American astronauts, one can note a particularly negative attitude towards the number 13 – it is considered to bring bad luck. As evidence, they cite the story of the Apollo 13 flight in 1970. The ship launched on April 11 at 13:13, and on April 13 its oxygen tank exploded. In addition, numerologists have calculated that if you add up the numbers in the launch date, you get the number 13.

The Chinese do not make their space programs much public, and do not even voice the traditions associated with space flights in the press. But since this nation is distinguished by a penchant for household magic, rituals and signs that bring good luck, probably, also take place in astronautics. In any case, the number 4, which among the Chinese is considered a symbol of death, is not on the elevator buttons of hotels where astronauts spend the night before the flight.

Of the Israelis, 14 people have made space flights to date, including 3 women. According to tradition, they take into space the symbols of their national identity: the Torah – the Jewish Bible, tales – a prayer coverlet, and men – also a Jewish male headdress (kippah). Mark Lewis Polanski, who made three space flights, took with him into space from the Holocaust Museum a teddy bear, a toy of a Jewish child killed in Auschwitz.

Mark Lewis Polansky

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