The Soyuz TMA-16 spacecraft launched today at 07:14 GMT (2:14 CDT) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. On board were Soyuz Commander Max Suraev, NASA Flight Engineer Jeff Williams and spaceflight participant Guy Laliberte, founder of Cirque du Soleil . They will arrive at the International Space Station on Friday.
If you’ve ever wondered about some of the unusual rituals the Russians partake in before a launch, an article on Discovery Space outlined the following traditions witnessed over the years by reporters for The Associated Press, or reported in the Russian media:
CARNATIONS FOR YURI: Before leaving for Baikonur, crew members lay red carnations at the monuments of the first Soviet cosmonauts in Star City outside Moscow and visit the office of Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space, and write their names in the visitors’ book.
ARRIVAL: Cosmonauts arrive in Baikonur on different planes and without their spouses. They check into the Kosmonaut hotel and walk down the alley where every tree was planted by cosmonauts who successfully returned from space.
MOVIE NIGHT: On the night before the launch, the cosmonauts watch “The White Sun of the Desert,” a 1969 comedy about a Russian soldier fighting in Central Asia.
MUSIC: Before leaving for the launch, the cosmonauts sip champagne and leave their signatures on the doors of their hotel rooms. Then they ride aboard a minibus to the launch pad listening to “Grass Near Home,” a 1983 hit of Soviet rock band The Earthlings.
BLESSING: After the Soviet era, black-robed Orthodox priests began to bless each rocket before launch.
SOAKING THE STAND-INS: 30 minutes before the launch, when the main crew is sealed in the spaceship, the cosmonaut’s stand-ins, who act as backup for the regular crew, are “soaked” by gulping vodka shots with journalists at a shabby cafeteria near the launch pad.
SOILING THE WHEEL: The cosmonauts get out of the bus near the rocket and urinate on its right rear wheel. The rite dates back to Gagarin himself, who reportedly did not want to soil his space suit during the takeoff.
MASCOT: A mascot, usually a stuffed animal named “Boris,” hangs in front of the crew. When the toy begins to float, the cosmonauts know they are approaching near zero gravity.
LANDING: After the landing in Kazakh steppe, the cosmonauts sign their capsule, which is charred by the heat of re-entry, and drink a bottle of vodka stashed before the launch. After a helicopter ride to Baikonur, they plant a tree near the Kosmonaut hotel.
RETURN TO MOSCOW: Upon their return to Star City outside Moscow, they pay a final visit to Gagarin’s monument and go to the church of St. Prince Daniil of Moscow, where they kiss the saint’s relics.
Source: Discovery Space