The Russian Soyuz is currently the only spacecraft capable of carrying astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). Getting on board involves a laundry list of procedures, etiquette and superstitions. For instance… Here is a list of some of the rituals you would need to follow before boarding a Russian rocket:
– One of the most poignant memorials to spaceflight is an avenue of trees at Baikonur – the city in Kazakhstan, where the Soyuz rockets are launched. Planted over the past 50 years, each tree represents a mission and the cosmonauts or astronauts who flew it. Today, it is traditional for each crew member to plant his or her own sapling.
– In Russia everything needs to be signed for and that includes your rocket. It is traditional for the crew to sign-off their spacecraft to indicate their approval that it is fit for flight. The crew also sign a wall in the museum at Baikonur and the door of their bedroom at the hotel after their last night on Earth. On their return, the crew also very often sign the charred outer casing of their space capsule.
– It is considered bad luck for the crew to watch their rocket being rolled out to the launch pad, so they are kept away. But, just as the crew have traditions to maintain, so do the engineers, support staff and astronaut families. The Soyuz is moved from its hangar on a railway line, by a lumbering diesel locomotive. As the train inches towards the pad, spectators place coins on the track to be flattened by the wheels. This is believed to bring luck to the mission. Once the rocket has reached the launchpad, it is blessed by a priest.
– Watch the capsule interior video during any Russian rocket launch and you will notice a cuddly toy hanging from the instrument panel. Not only do these toys serve as mascots for the mission, they also serve a serious purpose. When the rockets have finished burning and the Soyuz reaches orbit, the toys will float free to indicate to the crew that they are now in weightlessness.
– Probably the oddest tradition of the Russian space program also goes back to cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin. Apparently on his way to the launch pad in 1961, Yuri Gagarin asked the bus to pull over so he could relieve himself. He got out and urinated against the back right-hand tire. To this day, male astronauts are still expected to leave their bus, unzip their suits and urinate on the back right hand tire. Female astronauts have been known to bring vials of their urine to splash on the wheel.