I know there are many superstitious rituals practiced on the ground before liftoff. A well known superstition/tradition is urinating on the rear right tire of the vehicle bringing cosmonauts and astronauts to the launchpad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome for one.

But there are plenty of self-professed superstitions.

Steven Squyres, the principal investigator for the science instruments on the Mars Exploration Rover Project and a leading figure in Mars orbiter missions, said that those missions were plagued with so many glitches early on that he sought solace in an elk tooth from Lapland that he acquired during a bike trip in the 1980s. “I’m very superstitious when it comes to planetary missions,” Squyres, a protege of astronomer Carl Sagan, explained outside the APL, fingering the leather cord of his necklace. He takes it off only to replace the cord, leaving it on even when showering. “Everything was exploding, disasters were everywhere. I decided if ever I needed good luck, it’s now.”

Randy Gladstone, of the New Horizon's mission used a "decidedly non-tech talismans; like a faded, fraying bumper sticker on his 1991 black Honda Accord that says, 'My other vehicle is on its way to Pluto...I won’t replace that sticker [with an identical new on] until everything comes back.'”

The Russian engineers and technicians supporting the mission have their rituals as well. Rockets are delivered horizontally via rail and then erected at the Baikonur launch pad. As the rollout is monitored by workers, coins are placed on the rails to be flattened by the massive load, becoming keepsakes with a story. During fueling of the rocket, a woman's name is written on the side in the frost created by the supercooled fuel. Tradition turned superstition when this wasn't carried out leading up to the launch of a satellite in March
1980 and an accident during fueling left 47 pad workers dead. This checklist item has not been skipped since. American astronauts must have picked up the tradition as they began writing initials in the frosty liquid oxygen line fueling the shuttle.

Emphasis added to highlight the magical thinking of those involved.

But other than the soft toy mascot hanging in the Soyuz capsule, which I know serves a practical purpose as well, has any space agency, cosmonaut or astronaut discussed superstitions practiced in the ISS or during any earlier missions?

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    $\begingroup$ Is "tradition'' maybe a better term? $\endgroup$ Aug 16, 2020 at 11:53
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    $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble Considering there are many examples of magical thinking behind these rituals, the term tradition does not fully express the motivations behind these actions. $\endgroup$
    – Bob516
    Aug 16, 2020 at 13:26
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    $\begingroup$ Obviously not done in space, cosmonauts urinate on a tire of the bus that brought them to the launch site, for good luck. Apparently it is very important to do so. This tradition / superstition dates back to the very first flight by a human into space. $\endgroup$ Aug 16, 2020 at 18:34
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidHammen Yes, I mentioned that in the first paragraph of my question. $\endgroup$
    – Bob516
    Aug 16, 2020 at 18:52
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    $\begingroup$ Apollo 13 took off at 13:13min and the mission went smoothly in terms of mortality rate, because no one was ever able to walk under the LM ladder. $\endgroup$
    – user19132
    Aug 17, 2020 at 19:54

1 Answer 1


I've found article about superstitions of Russian cosmonauts (in Russian).

I'm not sure all the information is authentic.

Probably some parts are legends and not practiced superstitions. Please read this with some doubt.

My translation:

Cosmonauts are considered perhaps the most superstitious people on the planet. Traditionally, they take a wormwood twig on the flight, as it retains its scent longer than other plants and reminds of the Earth, and it is customary to see the crew off to the launch site to the song "Earth in the window" (aka "Grass by the home").

Black Mondays and Unlucky Dates

The beginning of "space superstitions" was laid by the famous chief designer Sergei Korolyov. It is reliably known that Korolyov did not like starts on Mondays and always rescheduled the date if it fell on Monday. Why he did it - it remains a big mystery. Nevertheless, Korolyov defended his point of view at meetings with supreme commanders, even serious conflicts flared up. Spaceships did not fly in the Soviet Union on Mondays during first three years of the space age. Then they started flying, which caused 11 accidents. Since 1965, Monday has been considered by Soviet and now Russian cosmonautics as almost the official "non-starting" day.

There are also "unlucky dates" in Baikonur. Starts are never scheduled for October 24th. On this day no serious work is carried out at the launch sites at all. On October 24, 1960, an explosion of R-16 ICBM carrier rocket took place at the Baikonur launch pad, killing dozens of people. On October 24, 1963, an R-9A rocket flashed on the launch pad. Eight people were burned to death.


Astronauts never sign autographs before their first flight. Some generally avoid signing autographs in black ink. However, the entire crew must sign a bottle of vodka, which is drunk on the ground, in the Kazakh steppe, after a successful flight.

Astronauts are happy to leave autographs on the door of the hotel room where they spend the night before the start. It is strictly forbidden to paint over or wash off these autographs.

Woman on board

They say that because of superstitions, they were afraid to send Valentina Tereshkova into space - everyone remembered the old maritime omen at the expense of a woman on a ship. But the Soviet leaders were not prone to superstition. In 1963, on the eve of an international conference of women in Moscow, it was a woman who was to fly into space.


For a long time, the baleen were not allowed into space. During the flight of the mustachioed Vitaliy Zholobov [erroneously called "Victor Zholobov" in the article], there were problems, and the program had to be terminated ahead of schedule.

Other cosmonaut oddities

Cosmonauts will never call the launch of any spacecraft "the last": for example, "the last launch to the Mir station ..." they will prefer to call "extreme", "final". Also, cosmonauts never say goodbye to those who see them off.

At the cosmodrome in Plesetsk, before the launch of the carrier rocket, they must write "Tanya" on it. They say that this name was brought out on the first rocket by an officer in love with a certain Tanya. Once, when they forgot to display the happy name on the hull, the rocket exploded before launch.

Before the start, the cosmonauts must watch Soviet film "White Sun of the Desert".

It is considered a rule for cosmonauts to pee on the wheel of the bus carrying them to the launch site. After that, the spacesuit is tightly fastened to them, and the next opportunity to relieve themselves will be presented only a few hours later, already in open space. The ritual seems to have gone from the time of Yuri Gagarin and is still supported. Others believe the founder of this tradition was General Designer Sergei Korolyov who peed on the rocket before launch.

Finally, before the launch cosmonauts receive friendly kick from the chief.

But with the 13th number, there are no special superstitions among Russian cosmonauts and rocket scientists. Of course, few people like this number, but we definitely do not have madness on "Friday the 13th". But NASA does not like the 13th very much - there have already been unpleasant incidents. So, the famous lunar "Apollo 13" went to the earth's satellite on April 11, and on April 13 an explosion occurred on board the ship - one of the oxygen tanks exploded.

Hyperlinks are myne.


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