“Like pilots and sailors, cosmonauts and astronauts tend to be a superstitious lot, and various little rituals have evolved over the decades since Yurii Gagarin’s flight. The purpose of these pre-flight ceremonies is to (hopefully) make those involved feel a bit better about going up on a highly explosive rocket into a hostile environment, and to appease any deities who might be observing. It seems to work … most of the time. (Launching into orbit is arguably less dangerous than, say, driving on Moscow’s roads, though the consequences are somewhat more spectacular if anything goes awry.) Of some reassurance is that the Soyuz rocket does have a launch escape system! Landing is perhaps more cause for concern; it is a re-entry dependent upon parachutes to open and slow the capsule down.
Here are described some of the rituals practiced by crews in Russia.
Before leaving Star City, the Soyuz crew visit the memorial wall on the Cosmonauts’ Avenue outside the Kremlin Wall (behind Lenin’s mausoleum) to lay red carnations (an even number of flowers are chosen for funerals). The ashes of Yurii Gagarin and those of the four cosmonauts who perished during spaceflight accidents are interred here: Vladimir Komarov (Soyuz-1) and Georgii Dobrovol’ski, Vladislav Volkov, and Viktor Patsaev (Soyuz-11).
Another tradition is to sign the Visitors’ Book in Yurii Gagarin’s office. The office is preserved as a museum at Zvyozdniy Gorodok, with everything the way he left it before the fighter jet training flight that ended in his death on 27 March 1968.
On Gagarin’s birthday on 9 March, personnel from Star City visit his home village of Glushino; as do flight crews who are to be launched around that time. The cottage in which he grew up is preserved, and one local tradition is for crews to have a glass of water from the nearby well, thus ensuring their departure into space.”