Why do astronauts pee on the wheel of a bus before they take off? Do superstitious traditions really help astronauts about to fire into space? Kevin Fong investigates.
Day 15 of A Place Called Space, our 2015 advent calendar: http://rigb.org/advent
As Tim Peake launches to the ISS, we take a look at the strange traditions, rituals and superstitions that astronauts dutifully carry out before any flight into space. Following in the footsteps of Yuri Gagarin, they echo his actions and pay respects to those that have flown before them. But given that space travel is the culmination of decades of work of scientists and engineers, do these irrational quirks have a place and purpose?
Maybe – just as athletes build confidence and assurance by carrying out certain pre-game habits, so too can astronauts, as they struggle to feel a sense of control over the daunting prospect of being fired into space.
‘A Place Called Space’ is the 2015 Royal Institution advent calendar. Every day in the run up to Christmas we'll be releasing an original piece of content exploring the human experience and cultural significance of space travel. With hand-drawn animations, experiments in zero gravity, interviews with astronauts and creative data visualisations, the calendar will fire you into space every morning.
'A Place Called Space' channels the voices of seasoned astronauts and expert scientists through the eyes of a team of talented animators, film-makers and artists, bringing you a thought-provoking gem to kick-start each day.
Check it out at http://rigb.org/advent
With special thanks to our lead supporter, Wellcome Trust http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/
"Americana" by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
“Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0
Official image credit:
“Heading out into the Steppe” by NMK Photography via Flickr (https://flic.kr/p/e3okCE)
"Soviet cosmonauts" from RIA Novosti archive via Wikimedia Commons (http://bit.ly/1lsgAYd)
“Yuri Gagarin's office. Recreated with his actual furniture “ by Christopher Michel via Flickr (https://flic.kr/p/nKDU3R)
“Signing Guest book at Gagarin's office in Star City's museum (as backup crew)” by Samantha Cristoforetti via Flickr (https://flic.kr/p/no9gUE)
“Day 4 Basketball (18 August 2010)” by SPH-SYOGOC / Gary Goh via Flickr (https://flic.kr/p/8tibKT)
“Day 8 Basketball (22 Aug 2010)” by SPH-SYOGOC/YUSUF ABDOL HAMID via Flickr (https://flic.kr/p/8uoSyo)
“Day 9 Basketball (23 August 2010)” by SYOGOC/Steven Tor via Flickr (https://flic.kr/p/8uL4a9)
“Day 8 Basketball (22 Aug 2010)” by SPH-SYOGOC/Joseph Nair via Flickr (https://flic.kr/p/8uoTLA)
“Day 8 Basketball (22 Aug 2010)” by SYOGOC/Foo Chee Chang via Flickr (https://flic.kr/p/8uoTEq)
Barclay, E. (2012, August 9) Healing in Repetition. [Magazine article] Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2012/08/02/157789182/the-science-of-ritual-why-we-seek-help-and-healing-in-repetition
Gino, F. and Norton, M.I. (2013, May 14) Why Rituals Work. [Magazine aritcle] Retrieved from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-rituals-work/
Lewis, T. (2012, August 12) Peanuts, blackjack and pee: strangest space mission superstitions. [Magazine article] Retrieved from http://www.wired.com/2012/08/space-mission-superstitions/
Murphy, A. (2008, May 27) The losing hand: tradition and superstition in spaceflight. [Online article] Retrieved from http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1137/1
Damisch, L. et al. (2010) Keep Your Fingers Crossed! How Superstition Improves Performance. Psychological Science 21(7): 1014-1020
Foster, S.J. et al. (2006) The Effect of Removing Supersitious Behavior and Introducing a Pre-Performance Routine on Basketball Free-Throw Performance. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology 18(2): 161-171
Legare, C.H. and Watson-Jones, R.E. (2015) The Evolution and Ontogeny of Ritual. In H. L. Miller, Jr. (Gen. ed.), The SAGE Encyclopedia of Theory in Psychology. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publishers.