Bad Luck Blackjack and the Ghost of Yuri Gagarin: Curious Superstitions Surrounding Space Missions

Illustration for article titled Bad Luck Blackjack and the Ghost of Yuri Gagarin: Curious Superstitions Surrounding Space Missions

Space exploration requires technical expertise, careful planning, and test after test after test. But it can be hard to discount the role of luck in missions where so much can go wrong. In the US and Russian space programs, many rituals are attached to missions, perhaps to add a little good fortune to their science.


Tanya Lewis at Wired Science has collected a number of these space-related rituals from the US and Russian space programs. She notes, for example, that peanuts must be present at every Jet Propulsion Laboratory launch and landing, a tradition that began after the first six Ranger missions failed and someone brought a jar of peanuts to the seventh, successful mission.

Some of the rituals Lewis cites are just that, rituals and traditions, and some of them stem from non-space pilot traditions. Others, however, are more superstitious, like card games American astronauts play prior to launch:

Before a launch, the commander must play cards (supposedly either Blackjack or 5-card poker) with the tech crew until he loses a hand. The tradition's origins are a mystery, but it may have begun during the two-man Gemini missions.

On Flickr, the photo from NASA HQ at the top includes a blurb explaining that this is done because "the commander must use up all his or her bad luck before launch."

The Russian traditions focus more heavily on good luck charms, as well as paying respect to those who have gone into space before:

Before leaving the Star City training complex near Moscow, Soyuz flight crews leave red carnations at the Memorial Wall in memory of first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, and four other cosmonauts. They visit Gagarin's office, sign his guestbook, and supposedly ask his ghost for permission to fly.

Wired Science has a nice list of these traditions, so you'll know what to eat and what to wear when heading off to space or working on a launch.

Peanuts, Blackjack and Pee: Strangest Space Mission Superstitions [Wired Science via Neatorama]



Platypus Man

Hold on, I'm confused — the commander has to play cards until he loses a hand in order to use up all his bad luck? If he quits when he loses, wouldn't he have used up all his good luck, leaving only bad luck for the mission?

I mean, one can't really apply logic to luck, but I feel like the commander should have to play until he wins a few hands in a row or something?

Still though, interesting.