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Movie, toilet first stops on trip to space station

Soyuz crew members, from left, Sergei Krikalyov, Yuri Gidzenko and American Bill Shepherd clasp hands at a news conference Monday  

BAIKONUR COSMODROME, Kazakhstan (Reuters) -- Since Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space in 1961, superstitious Russian cosmonauts have followed his example of watching a certain film and relieving themselves in the desert.

The U.S.-Russian crew blasting off for the International Space Station from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Tuesday had no intention of changing the ritual.

Gagarin watched the classic Soviet film "Beloye Solntse Pustinny" ("White Sun of the Desert") on the eve of his historic trip round the Earth.

Legend has it that while on his way to his rocket the next morning dressed in his space suit, Gagarin was faced with the need to answer the call of nature.

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He clambered out of the bus and relieved himself through a tube from his space suit against one of the rear wheels.

Since then, all cosmonauts -- men and women -- have stuck to both traditions.

"Who are we to break with tradition? No doubt other traditions will be set in the future, but we must keep the old ones," said Russian Yuri Gidzenko, pilot of the white, orange and grey Soyuz rocket heading for the space station.

William Shepherd, the U.S. commander of the first crew aboard the station, said he too was unwilling to tempt fate.

"We watch the movie at 6 p.m. And when we make the stop near the rail tracks tomorrow, I'll be there too," he said.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.



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