Why do cosmonauts piss on a wheel of the bus transporting them to the launch pad?

Apparently it's a tradition for cosmonauts to urinate on the rear right tires of the bus transporting them to the launch pad. Russian cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev reportedly did just that Wednesday before the Expedition 56/57 crew took off for the International Space Station. While male cosmonauts release the stream directly from the source, females carry a cup of urine that they pour onto the tire. Space.com explains why:

(They are) paying tribute to the first human in space — Yuri Gagarin. The cosmonaut, who launched April 12, 1961, from the same cosmodrome, had to "go" on the way to the rocket … and the rest is history.

Various other Gagarin tributes also come into play for launch crews — they also visit Gagarin's grave in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis in Moscow. And after arriving in Baikonur, they plant a tree in the same grove where Gagarin planted his; and they visit his office, which has been preserved since his death in 1968.

"Why Cosmonauts Pee on the Bus That Picks Them Up for Launches" (Space.com) Read the rest

Today is the anniversary of the first woman in space

On June 16, 1963, Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space. She orbited the Earth 48 times over a period of three days. Inspired by Yuri Gagarin who in 1961 became the first person in space, Tereshkova applied to the Russian space program and was accepted based on her extensive background as a skydiver. It wasn't until 40 years later that Tereshkova's nearly tragic experience in orbit was made public.

An error in the spacecraft's automatic navigation software caused the ship to move away from Earth. Tereshkova noticed this and Soviet scientists quickly developed a new landing algorithm. Tereshkova landed safely but received a bruise on her face.

She landed in the Altay region near today's Kazakhstan-Mongolia-China border. Villagers helped Tereshkova out of her spacesuit and asked her to join them for dinner. She accepted, and was later reprimanded for violating the rules and not undergoing medical tests first.

Valentina Tereshkova: First Woman in Space (Space.com) Read the rest