ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli (left) along with Expedition 52 crewmates Sergey Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos (center) and Randy Bresnik of NASA (right) took to Red Square in Moscow yesterday to perform ceremonies ahead of their July 28 launch to the International Space Station.
The crew paid tribute to Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space, and four other cosmonauts by placing a carnation at each memorial along the Kremlin Wall in Red Square. Other rituals include special signings, haircuts and some gardening.
Many of these traditions originate with Gagarin himself. A week before his launch, he planted a tree outside Baikonur Cosmodrome, and then got a haircut two days before his flight.
Since then, all crews launched aboard a Russian launch vehicle do as Yuri did. Some traditions were added later, such as signing the Visitor’s Book at Yuri’s office in Star City, which has been preserved just as he left it.
Like all rituals and traditions, they serve as a source of calm and comfort ahead of a taxing journey and cement the bond between fellow space explorers.
Expedition 52 marks the last mission for Paolo Nespoli to the International Space Station. He was last on the Station in 2010 for Europe’s third six-month mission.
His mission is called Vita, which stands for Vitality, Innovation, Technology and Ability. The name was chosen by Italy’s ASI space agency, which is providing the mission through a barter agreement with NASA.
In Italian, “vita” means “life”, reflecting the experiments that Paolo will run and the philosophical notion of living in outer space – one of the most inhospitable places for humans.