Marcos Pontes will take off from the Gagarin launch pad in Baikonur, a Russian base in Kazakhstan, on Thursday, on an 11-day mission along with Russia's Pavel Vinogradov and the US' Jeffrey Williams.

The first man in space, Yury Gagarin, took off from the same  launch pad on April 12, 1961.


The traditions begin 48 hours ahead of the launch when the space vessel is towed to the launch pad.

The towing begins at seven in the morning sharp as technicians are sure any time change could affect the chances of a successful flight.


The night before, astronauts traditionally watch White Sun in the Desert, a Soviet-era comedy that recounts the fictional adventures of a Red Army soldier in Central Asia.


Traditions

Before leaving for the launch pad, astronauts drink a glass of  champagne and sign a guest book at the Cosmonauts Hotel where they spend the night.


As they leave the hotel, a Soviet rock song by the band Zemlyane (Earthlings) is played.

The lift-off procedures are
steeped in superstitions

The song's lyrics talk about astronauts "who at night dream not of the noise of the cosmodrome but of the green grass outside their homes."


On the hotel steps, the astronauts are blessed by an Orthodox priest and horseshoes are attached to the bus that awaits them.

Driving to the launch pad, astronauts observe another tradition that officials only mention with some embarrassment.

They have to get off the bus and urinate on the tarmac.

Gagarin himself, so the legend goes, did the same before his  famous flight.


Vyacheslav Davidenko, spokesman for Russia's space  agency, said: "In the next mission with Marcos Pontes, all the traditions will be respected."

The traditions are based on a long and sometimes tragic history.


Tragedy

On October 24, 1960 a blast at Baikonur during the take-off of an R-16 rocket killed 60 people. Three years later, also on October 24, another accident killed seven people on the launch pad.

Since then, the date has become a day of mourning at Baikonur and to this day no launches are scheduled on October 24.


Russia
's Plesetsk cosmodrome in the northwestern Arkhangelsk
region, where unmanned flights take off from, also has its superstitions.


On the eve of each launch, technicians etch the name Tanya on the frost that forms on the rocket's fuselage in memory of a Soviet engineer who did the same out of love for his wife Tanya.

The tradition was not observed only once on March 18, 1980 in  the launch of a Vostok rocket. An explosion during take-off killed 48 people that day.