10 unusual rituals astronauts perform before blastoff

Rocket Credit: Reuters

Space flight is a superstitious business - perhaps not surprising, considering it involves sitting atop almost 300 tonnes of explosive rocket fuel and being blasted away from your home planet.

A number of religiously-observed pre-launch rituals have sprung up over the years, many of which date back to the actions of Yuri Gagarin, who made history by becoming the first human being ever to travel into outer space in 1961.

And, as is the case with most superstitions, the general rule seems to be that if something was done a particular way and it turned out well, why risk changing it?

Here are some of the things British astronaut Tim Peake faces before launch:

  • Wee on the bus

Astronauts are expected to stop the bus taking them to the launchpad and urinate on the back right wheel.

Astronauts are expected to urinate on the rear wheel of the bus Credit: Reuters

This tradition dates back to Gagarin, who for some reason - and nobody seems quite sure why - insisted on stopping the bus taking him to the launch pad to take a leak.

This tradition is, for obvious reasons, only asked of the men - though female astronauts have reportedly been known to bring vials of their urine to splash on the wheel instead.

  • Plant a tree

The 'avenue of heroes' at Baikonur in Kazakhstan, where the shuttle will launch, provides a poignant memorial to each mission conducted over the past 50 years.

Tim Peake has already planted his sapling Credit: ITV News

As well as honouring those who flew to space, it also commemorates those who did not come home.

Now, it is tradition for each crew member to plant their own sapling.

Tim Peake has already ticked this one off his list.

  • The White Sun of the Desert

The 1970 film has been watched by every astronaut who has flown from Baikonur since its release.

The film is an adventure story set in the Caspian Sea during the Russian Civil War, and reportedly one of the most popular films of the Soviet era, described as a Russian take on an American western.

It is shown at the hotel and attendance is mandatory.

  • Don't watch the roll-out

For fear of bad luck, the crew is kept away from the roll-out of the Soyuz capsule, and they don't see it until it is in situ.

Instead, they are required to have a haircut.

Tim Peake has tweeted a picture from the event, however, so perhaps the superstition doesn't extend to social media sightings.

  • Coins

While the capsule is being pulled along to the launch pad by a train - and while the astronauts are kept away - engineers, support staff and their families often place coins along the track.

It is believed to invite good luck to the mission.

Coins are placed on the track Credit: PA
  • Blessings

A relatively new tradition, an Orthodox Russian priest blesses the rocket once it has reached the launchpad.

A priest also blesses the crew the day before the launch, sprinkling them with holy water.

A Russian Orthodox priestcarries out a blessing at the launchpad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan
  • Champagne and signatures

On the morning of the launch, the astronauts are given Champagne at breakfast, before signing their hotel room door.

  • A good song

As they depart, they are serenaded with a song called The Green Grass Near My Home by The Earthlings - a Soviet-era rock ditty which tells of a cosmonaut's love for Earth.

  • Memorial Wall

Before they leave the Star City training centre, the crew must visit the Memorial Wall and lay red carnations.

US astronaut Michael Foale lays carnations on the tomb of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in 2003 Credit: Reuters

The wall commemorates Gagarin, who died in a training accident, as well as other cosmonauts who have died on space missions, before visiting Gagarin's office at Zvyozdniy Gorodok and sign his guest book.

Reportedly, the crew is also supposed to ask Gagarin's ghost for permission to fly, and to accompany them on their final preparations.

  • Cuddly toy

A small cuddly toy on a chain is dangled from the instrument panel, in full view of the cameras.

Russian cosmonaut Alexandr Samokutyae with his toy of choice

Often, astronauts let their children pick the toy in question.

As well as serving as a mascot for the mission, the toy also serves a genuine purpose - it floats once the Soyuz reaches orbit, signalling to the crew they are now in zero gravity.