Traditions of the Russian Space Program
- A few days before leaving for Baikonur, the crew visit Red Square. Cosmonauts lay carnations at the Kremlin wall where the ashes of Sergei Korolyov, Vladimir Komarov, Yuri Gagarin, Georgi Dobrovolsky, Vladislav Volkov and Viktor Patsaev are interred.
- They also stop at Yuri Gagarin’s office in Star City, which is exactly the same as he left it before he died. Every crew signs the guest book. In Soviet times, crews also visited Lenin’s office.
- Every cosmonaut is presented with a passport-type document to take with them.
- This one isn’t space specific. Each Soyuz commander chooses a call sign, early ones were mostly birds (Vostok 3-falcon), now they can be gems (Soyuz 11-Amber), places (Soyuz TM-13-Donbass), constellations (Soyuz TM-28-Altair), or others. If you can read Russian, here’s a list of all the call signs for each cosmonaut.
- The morning of the day the crew leaves for Baikonur, there’s a special breakfast and the crew is toasted.
- Four to five days before launch, the press is invited in for a day and photographs the crew playing games, excersizing, and other activities to get ready for the flight.
- An important ritual is the planting of trees along an avenue of trees. All cosmonauts have done this since Gagarin.
- The rollout of the Soyuz rocket happens 48 hours before launch. The prime crew doesn’t attend for fear of bad luck. Coins are sometimes put on the track and flattened by the train for good luck.
- The prime crew has their hair cut 2 days before going into space.
- A new tradition is the blessing of the Soyuz by the Baikonur Russian Orthodox priest.
- The night before launch the crew must watch White Sun of the Desert (Белое солнце пустыни).
- Before heading out to get suited up, cosmonauts sign their door at the cosmonaut hotel. They are also blessed by a priest.
- As they exit the hotel a song by Земляне (Earthlings) is played called Трава у дома (Grass near home).
- This is a strange tradition. After getting into their sokol suits and before reaching the launch pad, the bus stops and the crew pees on the tire. This is supposed to have started with Gagarin, but in the film of the first flight, the bus makes no stops.
- The commander is responsible for a talisman that hangs in the Soyuz. It is a visual indicator of when the spacecraft has reached orbit and weightlessness. Recent cosmonauts have let their children pick out a stuffed toy.
- Music is played in the Soyuz in the hour before launch.
- No launches are scheduled on October 24 as there have been two fatal accidents on this day. In 1960 prototype R-16 missile was ignited accidentally killing 78 to 120 people. In 1963 an R-9 rocket caught fire and killed seven people.
- The newly arrived crew is greeted with bread and salt aboard the station. This is a traditional Russian welcome.
- After landing, cosmonauts sign their name on Soyuz. I haven’t seen recent pictures of this, so I’m not sure if it still continues. The inside of the rescue helicopter is also signed.
- After being fully checked out by doctors, the crew is welcomed back to Earth at a Kazakh airport. They are presented with Kazakh robes and Matryoshka dolls with their likeness.
- After a month has gone by after quarantine and they are feeling more acclimatized to Earth, there is an official welcome ceremony in Star City. More bread and salt and speeches are made.
- Finally, cosmonauts are allowed to recuperate with their family at a resort of their choosing.