Going to Space from Russia is Steeped in Tradition – Blog by Richard Rogers

Apr 14, 2020
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Tradition Tuesday – Going to Space from Russia is steeped in Tradition

Ever Since Yuri Gagarin’s launch from the steps of Kazakhstan in April of 1961 that started the space race and elevated Gagarin to Hero Status in the then Soviet Union, Cosmonauts who have followed in his footsteps have retraced the steps and activities that he did prior to his flight.

The ceremonies start approximately two weeks before launch when the Prime and Backup crews complete their training with “Final Exams.” These “Exams” certify that they are ready for flight. Shortly after that, the crew goes to Moscow’s Red Square where the crew visits the final resting spots and lays flowers at the graves of Gagarin, Titov, and every Cosmonaut who has lost their lives in exploration of space. They are buried next to the wall of the Kremlin.

As darkness fell along the Kremlin Wall in Moscow Nov. 26, 2010, NASA Expedition 26 flight engineer Cady Coleman (left), Soyuz commander Dmitry Kondratyev, and European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli (right) prepare to lay flowers in a ceremonial tribute to Russian icons as part of activities leading to their launch Dec. 16 (Kazakhstan time) in the Soyuz TMA-20 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome to spend 5 ½ months on the International Space Station.
Credit: NASA/Mark Polansky

At the Kremlin Wall in Moscow Nov. 26, 2010, Expedition 26 Flight Engineer Cady Coleman of NASA prepared to lay flowers in honor of fallen Russian icons as part of the ceremonial activities leading to the launch of her, Soyuz Commander Dmitry Kondratyev and Flight Engineer Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency Dec. 16 (Kazakhstan time) in their Soyuz TMA-20 spacecraft to the International Space Station.
Credit: NASA/Mark Polansky

After this visit its back to Star City and a visit to Gagarin’s office where the crew signs a guest book on Gagarin’s desk, the office is left just the way it was when Gagarin left to go on a training mission in a jet trainer, the trainer would later crash causing his death.

At Yuri Gagarin’s museum at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia, Expedition 33/34 Soyuz Commander Oleg Novitskiy (center, front row) signs a commemorative book September 25, 2012 as his crewmates, Flight Engineer Evgeny Tarelkin (right, front row), NASA Flight Engineer Kevin Ford (left, front row) and backup crewmembers Alexander Misurkin, Pavel Vinogradov and Chris Cassidy of NASA (left to right in the rear) look on. Ford, Tarelkin and Novitskiy are the homestretch of their training for launch October 23 to the International Space Station from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on their Soyuz TMA-06M spacecraft. The trio will spend five months on the orbital outpost.
NASA/Stephanie Stoll

On the morning the crew departs Star City to travel to Baikonur, (The Russian launch site), the crew has the “Cosmonauts Breakfast” which is attended by both American Astronauts and their Russian Counterparts, during this breakfast toast are made to the crew and final good-byes are said to their training team and colleagues as they will next take a three-hour plane flight to the Russian launch facility in Baikonur, Kazakhstan.

After their arrival at Baikonur the Crew enters the Pre-Flight Quarantine period where their contact is limited to the training team and members of their immediate families. During the Soyuz launch last week due to the Corona Virus, the Quarantine began at Star City and The Crews’ Families Remained in Houston, and Star City for the launch.

The last two weeks before launch is filled with several fit checks of both the Russian Sokol suit and the Soyuz Capsule itself.

Between the fit checks and medical exams there is a visit to the house where Gagarin spent the night before launch, and planting of a tree by the crew commemorating their Mission. The Day before launch the State Commission holds a final meeting which the crew attends behind glass, and the crew is certified for the mission, afterwards there is a final press confernce with the media.

That evening the Crew Watches the Movie “White Sun of the Desert” this movie has been a tradition since the 1970s and every Astronaut and Cosmonaut has watched the movie no matter how many times they have been in space.

Launch Day starts approximately 8 hours before the launch when the crew is awakened in the crew quarters, has a final meal, meets with their families one last time, and before leaving the crew quarters they sign the door of the rooms they stayed in, followed by an blessing from an Russian Orthodox Priest who blesses the crew, they then walkout of the quarters and walk to a bus while the Russian song “Green Grass near my Home” plays in the background. The crew then is transported to the Integration Building where they suit up, and then are transported to the launch pad, often it’s the same one that launched Gagarin back in 1961, during the trip the bus stops and the crew relieves themselves on a tire of the bus. They arrive at the pad, take the elevator to the white room where they board the spacecraft and then are launched on their journey to the International Space Station.

The Russians have followed this same tradition since the beginning of the space race. What traditions did the US have during the Shuttle Program? We will visit that next week.

(Blog written by stellar volunteer Richard Rogers!)

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