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Author Topic:   Astronaut, cosmonaut customs and superstitions
John Charles
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posted 09-18-2005 03:39 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for John Charles     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
It once occurred to me that there are now so many "traditions" involved in space flight that a large part of each mission is so predictable as to seem scripted. To prove my point, I have occasionally tried to list all the traditions I know of, but so many come to mind that I feel overwhelmed and go have a lie down.

For example: designing the crew patch; launch day cake; post-landing walk-around (just writing those has triggered a flood of others...). Many of these traditions seem to have originated as, or evolved into, photo opportunities.

Has anyone succeeded where I have failed, and listed all known astronaut (and cosmonaut) traditions? I would greatly appreciate a pointer to any such listing.

If not, I would welcome all inputs from contributors to a definitive listing (so I can quit worrying about it).

FFrench
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posted 09-18-2005 03:49 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for FFrench     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
In this article about Bill Shepherd and the first ISS mission I mentioned some of the traditions he tried to begin aboard ISS (some of which have continued, some did not).

MCroft04
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posted 09-18-2005 06:41 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for MCroft04   Click Here to Email MCroft04     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I recall reading that the cosmonauts had a tradition of urinating on the tire of a trailor before each launch, apparently something that Yuri Gagarin did before his flight. There's also another tradition of the cosmonauts having to do with their office, but I can't recall the details at his time. I doubt that my memory on either of these is very good; anyone out there remember the details of either of these traditions?

John Charles
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posted 09-18-2005 06:57 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for John Charles     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The recent book about Soviet/Russian space suits by Abramov claims that Gagarin never "christened" his bus in this way, and that it was all an invention of the press. But he doesn't explain why most (all?) subsequent cosmonauts still do it, and are even sometimes photographed in the act.

Cosmonauts also visit a replica of Yuri Gagarin's office at Star City near Mosccow, maintained just the way it was the day he died, to pledge to do a good job on their upcoming mission.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 09-18-2005 07:46 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by John Charles:
The recent book about Soviet/Russian space suits by Abramov claims that Gagarin never "christened" his bus in this way, and that it was all an invention of the press.
Supporting this contention, I was talking with someone who had watched film of the entire procession of Gagarin to the pad, who claimed it was an uninterrupted ride. One wonders then: how did this very odd tradition begin?
quote:
Cosmonauts also visit a replica of Yuri Gagarin's office at Star City near Mosccow, maintained just the way it was the day he died, to pledge to do a good job on their upcoming mission.
The office is "frozen" to the degree that the clock on the wall is said to have stopped at the moment Gagarin died. While visiting, they sign a book on his desk, seen in this photo (taken during a trip to Star City in 2000):

Other cosmonaut traditions before launch:

  • Visiting the graves in the Kremlin wall of Gagarin, Komarov, Volkov, Patsayev, Dobrovolski and I believe Korolyov.
  • Touring the forest behind their living quarters at Baikonur; each tree represents an individual who has launched from the base.
  • Signing the door to their room in the living quarters.
  • Signing a poster of the Soyuz rocket on the pad at the Gagarin Memorial Museum in Baikonur.
  • Not attending the rollout and erection of the Soyuz on the pad.

kosmonavtka
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posted 09-18-2005 08:20 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for kosmonavtka     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have a couple of pages about cosmonaut traditions on my website.

Tom
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posted 09-19-2005 08:06 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Tom   Click Here to Email Tom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Isn't there an American (astronaut) tradition that the CDR and PLT play a card game in the suit-up room with other NASA officials... and the CDR must lose a hand before they can proceed to the vehicle?

kosmonavtka
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posted 09-19-2005 11:18 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for kosmonavtka     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I saw that card game mentioned in a couple of space novels - it's called "Possum's Fargo", whatever that is!

From "Titan" by Stephen Baxter:

There were more rituals, as they headed out of the building towards the bus that would take them to the pad. There was a card game called Possum's Fargo that they had to play, for instance, with a couple of the techs. Rosenberg couldn't believe his eyes. Here they were, the five of them, like huge insects in their glaring orange pressure suits, standing around a table to play what seemed like, to him, a kid's version of poker. But - rigid tradition had it - they couldn't leave, until the commander, Angel in this case, had lost a hand. It took six hands.

kyra
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posted 09-20-2005 12:59 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for kyra   Click Here to Email kyra     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Regarding cosmonaut traditions:
  1. Rookie cosmonauts don't sign autographs outside of those dictated by other traditions (ie. the door, Gagarin's Guest Book)

  2. The "Cosmonaut's song" night before launch - started with Vostok 3/4 but I'm not sure that has continued, although the song is still popular among cosmonauts, and still played in space. I have full versions of the lyrics (Russian and English) if anyone is interested. "I believe my friends caravans of rockets will carry us from star to star..." the refrain goes.
NASA's traditions may be more subtle and hidden in requirements: The Boeing Bench Review - often a photo-op. The crew photo. The signing of the supplemental life insurance policy, next of kin documentation.
Lazy-Boy recliners during the suit-up.

And not to forget - The Family Escort, and the Beach House, and the distant goodbyes from quarantine.

ColinBurgess
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posted 09-20-2005 09:00 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ColinBurgess   Click Here to Email ColinBurgess     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Didn't the cosmonauts also have a traditional but humorous ceremony in which new cosmonaut graduates were pushed fully clothed into the training pool by King Neptune? Started, I believe, by Alexei Leonov. Bit hazy on this, so someone else may have full details.

pokey
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posted 10-17-2005 09:53 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for pokey   Click Here to Email pokey     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
No one mentioned it, but I thought there was a cosmonaut tradition of watching a particular comedy of errors movie prior to launching. A military officer is returning home after WWII and all he wants is to go home, yet he is persuaded to escort a chieftain's wives somewhere as a favor, etc. The wives begin to fight because they think their protector has designated one of them the primary wife, etc. I guess the message to the cosmonauts is if something can go wrong it will go wrong. If someone remembers the title of the movie and could give a better summary...

On edit: Suzy's web site has this movie, White Sun of the Desert.

Suzy's web site shows Pettit ringing a ship's bell at the JSC welcome home reception for an ISS crew. The original tradition was to have someone from the previous ISS crew welcome back the next crew. This held up for a few flights, but has become anyone from a previous ISS crew. Usually it is an American because they're more likely to be on-hand at JSC than a Russian. I think Krikalev was helping Pettit that particular day.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 03-02-2008 04:19 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
A possible new cosmonaut voting tradition...

Xinhua: Russians vote for Putin's successor from earth, in outer space

While millions of Russian voters went to the polls on Sunday amid snow flurries to elect their new president, Yuri Malenchenko cast his ballot far away from any polling station on Earth -- He voted in outer space.

"Malenchenko's trusted person will enter a special room where he can comfortably talk with his comrade working in orbit and, having learnt his decision, fill out a ballot and drop it into a special ballot box that will then be carried to the territorial election commission," Cosmonauts' Training Center spokesman Sergei Tafrov said.

While Malenchenko is radio-contacting his friend, the cosmonauts from Star City will go to the Cosmonauts' House where three polling stations have been set up to cast their ballots simultaneously with him.

"By voting simultaneously with Malenchenko, they will show their solidarity with their colleague who is doing his duty under the challenging conditions of space," Tafrov said, adding that the way they voted could probably start a new voting tradition.

rjurek349
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posted 03-02-2008 06:38 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for rjurek349   Click Here to Email rjurek349     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by kosmonavtka:
"There were more rituals, as they headed out of the building towards the bus that would take them to the pad. There was a card game called Possum's Fargo that they had to play, for instance, with a couple of the techs."
Last night, I was watching a German program I recorded a while back about Columbia. It was a great documentary that had tons of behind the scenes footage, and amazing computer re-enactment of the break-up in re-entry.

Anyway, they showed video of Rick Husband playing the black-jack-like card game with the head of flight crew operations. Rick Searfross was on as one of the documentary participants, and he described the tradition, saying it went back for years -- that the CDR can't take his crew out to the shuttle for launch until he plays the game, and they have to keep playing until the CDR loses.

DKS22
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posted 03-12-2008 11:43 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for DKS22   Click Here to Email DKS22     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I know that during Gemini and Apollo projects the astronauts usually ate steak and eggs for breakfast before liftoff.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 05-28-2008 05:09 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The Space Review: The losing hand: tradition and superstition in spaceflight
It may seem incredible that in the world of manned spaceflight, of high-tech mission control and protocols for everything, there is a body of folklore, superstition, and tradition that is followed by each and every crewmember as if performing a sacred rite. Invocation of spirits of the dead, holy water, lucky card games, talismans, ritual words to be uttered at certain times -- it reads like the initiation into some secret lodge.

blacklion1
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posted 05-28-2008 07:06 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for blacklion1   Click Here to Email blacklion1     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
There is also a tradition after a manned launch at Kennedy Space Center of launch officials and family's of astronaut crew members sharing a meal of beans after a launch. And that the returning astronaut crew shares in this meal after they return. I don't know how this tradition started.

music_space
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posted 08-23-2010 06:48 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for music_space   Click Here to Email music_space     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
From Air & Space Magazine, September 2010, "One More For The Checklist" about airborne superstition:
Superstition has even found its way into NASA, which has always selected its pilots from the military services. Space shuttle astronaut Robert "Hoot" Gibson, an ex-Navy fighter pilot, recalls that on launch day, the schedule gives the crew about 15 minutes between suiting up and heading to the pad. During that period, the astronauts would stand around a high table in the suit-up area, joined by the Chief of the Astronaut Office and the Director of Flight Operations. A deck of cards would appear, and they would play a homegrown game called Possum Fargo. Five-card hands were dealt. No betting, no further cards. Just a rapid deal. Whoever had the lowest hand won the round.

"It's like poker, 180 degrees out," says Gibson. "The lowest you could get was 2,3,4,5,7 [a 6 gave you a straight]. That was the winningest hand." The crew could not leave until the commander of the mission won a hand--for good luck. "You were not ready to walk out of there until he won," says Gibson. He doesn't know who created the game or who named it. But he played it on every one of his five missions.

Four-time shuttle astronaut Tom Jones has a slightly different recollection of Possum Fargo. "We watched the commander play the card game in the suit-up room against the chief of the Flight Crew Operations Directorate," says Jones. "Rest of the crew does not play, and I don't know the game. My opinion is that the kind of people I crewed with did not get there by being superstitious, so it's a trait bred out of the astronaut corps for the most part." But he admits that the commander had to get that low hand before launch. "Once you lose, you can go out to the pad," says Jones. Or win, he means, with that lousy hand.

I never had heard of this one. Are there any other astronaut superstitions our there?

Editor's note: Threads merged.

spacefan JC
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posted 08-24-2010 06:25 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for spacefan JC     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Dont know, but I love the word "winningest". I'm going to use that today!

garymilgrom
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posted 08-24-2010 07:18 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for garymilgrom   Click Here to Email garymilgrom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I've read about the Russian tradition of urinating on a tire of the bus that takes them to the pad. Not sure if your question is for NASA astronauts only.

music_space
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posted 08-24-2010 08:01 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for music_space   Click Here to Email music_space     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Well, the Soviet/Russian traditions (e.g. the tire, the movie, the signing on the door) are longer-standing and better-known that the American tradition...

moorouge
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posted 08-24-2010 08:13 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Does it count as a superstition that, like pilots elsewhere, the Mercury astronauts named their spacecraft?

alanh_7
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posted 08-24-2010 09:02 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for alanh_7   Click Here to Email alanh_7     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
In 2008, I talked with Fred Gregory and he said that the evening before each mission he would go to the flame trench by himself and talk to the engine bells.

He did it just as a way of clearing his mind, while at the same time putting the word in just in case the engine gods were listening... he did not get into specifics but I took that to mean a sort of pep talk to the engines 'come on guys... work with me" sort of thing. He asked if it sounded crazy but to be honest, but it made sense to me... anything one can do to help.

I found that to be interesting.

jasonelam
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posted 08-24-2010 09:59 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for jasonelam   Click Here to Email jasonelam     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Speaking of "The White Sun of the Desert", I read somewhere that the crew had to stay through the entire viewing, and that in one case when a crew member left halfway through the movie, their mission was ended halfway through its planned duration. Has anyone else heard of this?

Bert Vis
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posted 09-01-2010 05:27 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Bert Vis   Click Here to Email Bert Vis     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I was told in Star City that it was Vladimir Vasyutin who walked out for a smoke, halfway through the traditional showing of the movie. Subsequently, he became ill during the flight and had to be brought back to Earth. The guy who told me insisted it was really what had happened, but I can't help but think it's an urban legend

Bert Vis
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posted 09-01-2010 05:42 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Bert Vis   Click Here to Email Bert Vis     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by kyra:
Rookie cosmonauts don't sign autographs outside of those dictated by other traditions (ie. the door, Gagarin's Guest Book)
This is a story that over the years has begun a life of its own.

Initially, it was only the cosmonauts from Energiya who wouldn't sign before their first flight. They would say it was a tradition, but it was more superstition and not everyone stuck to it.

Several Energiya people did sign for me (albeit in person, not through the mail). Of those, Kononenko, Yurchikhin, and others have since flown in the meantime. Several others are assigned to a mission.

Military cosmonauts only began following this "tradition" in recent years. Several dozen of them signed for me (again: in person) prior to their first flight or flight assignment.

As for signing only when dictated by other traditions: I know that each and everyone of them signs hundreds and hundreds of pictures, covers and other souvenirs during the flight from Moscow to Baykonur a few days prior to launch. That's not a tradition, I've been told that these items are given to people who work in the space field, and many of them end up being offered for sale.

ASCAN1984
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posted 03-05-2011 08:58 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for ASCAN1984   Click Here to Email ASCAN1984     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Was just wondering if anyone knew more about Possum's Fargo or has heard any interesting stories? All I know is that it is played by astronauts about to leave for the pad and the commander has to lose before they all can leave. How did this game begin?

Editor's note: Threads merged.

brianjbradley
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posted 03-05-2011 12:56 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for brianjbradley   Click Here to Email brianjbradley     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
A few shuttle traditions that I know of are:
  • Affixing the crew patch on the door frame of the O&C Building where they walk out to the pad. The patch goes in a few other places around the O&C.

  • Sharing a bottle of wine at the Beach House the night before launch and signing the bottle

  • A new launch flight director (controller?) gets their tie cut after working their inaugural launch.

  • The Chief Astronaut recites the Astronauts Prayer "God help you if you screw up" to the crew in the Astrovan on the way to the pad (I think John Young started this)

  • Astronaut children draw on a white board while families wait for launch. This is later framed.

  • Crew members write their initials in frost on an O2 line on the pad before entering the vehicle.

Lou Chinal
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posted 03-06-2011 05:24 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Lou Chinal   Click Here to Email Lou Chinal     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I belive Alan Shepard started the Astronauts pray while waiting for MR-3 to be launched.

Kocmoc
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posted 10-23-2012 02:21 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Kocmoc   Click Here to Email Kocmoc     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Does anyone know which mission began the White Sun of the Desert viewing? I am assuming that this was instituted no earlier than Lazarev and Makarov's Soyuz 12 flight in 1973, but can't seem to find a definitive reference.

------------------
Cathleen S. Lewis

p51
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posted 10-23-2012 06:06 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for p51   Click Here to Email p51     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
At risk of sounding crass, wouldn't astronauts have changed some of these 'traditions' after the Challenger had the SRB failure? I mean, if they did all the right things, it didn't help any of them, right? In the Army, our unit had a few odd things we had to do before going to the field. Once we lost someone in a training exercise after doing all that beforehand, we stopped doing it all as it clearly didn't help...

Robert Pearlman
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posted 10-23-2012 06:17 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by p51:
At risk of sounding crass, wouldn't astronauts have changed some of these 'traditions' after the Challenger had the SRB failure?
That's only if the activity is based on a belief that it brings luck, when many of these customs are more rooted in tradition.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 09-05-2013 04:49 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
collectSPACE
Astronaut reveals 'lucky charm' floating on space station

An astronaut working onboard the International Space Station (ISS) has revealed his "lucky charm" — a miniature toy astronaut figurine — in a video recently sent down to Earth.

"I was going through personal things [that] I have flown for people and came across my own personal item I'd like to share with everybody," NASA astronaut and Expedition 36 flight engineer Chris Cassidy said in the video, which was released online Wednesday (Sept. 4). "This little astronaut guy has seen better days but he has special meaning."

p51
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posted 09-05-2013 05:46 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for p51   Click Here to Email p51     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Mike Mullane e-mailed me on the use of one of the shuttle simulators (he thought it was a FFT but I doubt it), that crews would put their mission sticker somewhere on the nose mockup. I can't recall specifics, but the 51L crew either put one there before their mission or didn't put one at all, I can't recall which he said, but it was something no crew had done before, and we all know what happened to the Challenger afterward.

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