Space, the final frontier of superstition

By Paul Jay, CBCNews.ca

The head of the Russian space agency wants to rename the next mission to the International Space Station to avoid the number 13, according to the AFP news agency.

Anatoly Perminov, head of the Russian space agency Roskosmos, wants to rename the next Soyuz mission TMA-14. TMA-12 successfully launched two cosmonauts and a South Korean astronaut to the station earlier this month.

"In Russia, many people have superstitious beliefs - black cats, Mondays, the number 13. That's why I think that it is a good idea to change the number of the next space ship," Perminov said.

When your business involves strapping humans inside a rocket and launching them into space, you can perhaps be forgiven for not wanting to take chances in an already risky venture.

So perhaps it should not be surprising that astronauts and cosmonauts are a superstitious lot. NASA wanted the space shuttle Endeavour last year to launch on July 7, 2007 at 7 p.m. (the seventh hour or the seventh day of the seventh month...) before a technical issue forced a flight delay. And Russian cosmonauts have a whole ritual of superstitions they follow through on before launch, including taking in the Russian film "White Sun of the Desert."

But Russia should also remember that it was during the International Space Station's Expedition 13 that German astronaut Thomas Reiter came aboard the space station via a U.S. space shuttle, marking the first time the station's crew had consisted of three people since the Columbia disaster had grounded NASA's fleet.

It would have been easy for NASA to rename the station crew's mission in anticipation of that flight, given all that hung in the balance. But they didn't, and now 13 is just another number.