Where Everyone Has Gone Before

On April 12, 1961, the Soviet Union launched Vostok 1 into low Earth orbit. Onboard was Yuri Gagarin, a Soviet cosmonaut. The one-hour, 48-minute flight was a historic one — it was the first manned spaceflight in history. Gagarin would, forevermore, be known as the first man in space, a title which comes with an extraordinary amount of reverence. Dozens of cosmonauts and astronauts alike have followed in Gagarin’s footsteps, in some cases literally. To go where Gagarin went, cosmonauts go where Gagarin went.

As in, they pee where he peed.

On launch day, 1961, Gagarin was brought to the launch pad via a transport bus. When he arrived, he realized that he had to do his business, so to speak, before he set off to go where no one had gone before. And while Vostok 1 and its launch site had a lot of really cool things, it didn’t have some of the creature comforts of home — there were no toilets. So, as TIME recounted, he unzipped (or however one opens that part of a spacesuit) and relieved himself on the rear tire of the transport. While this had nothing to do with the success of the Vostok 1 flight — scientifically speaking, of course — future cosmonauts figured they’d better not risk it. Taking a leak on the rear tire of the transport bus before going into the great beyond became a Soviet and later, Russian tradition.

Since Gagarin’s flight, every single male cosmonaut has followed suit. Some can be seen below, via Blastr, and don’t worry, you don’t see anything that you couldn’t show to a child. Even many of the female cosmonauts have kept true-ish to the tradition, taking a cup of urine with them on launch day and pouring it onto the tire in question.


One spaceman, however, opted against continuing the tradition. On March 14, 1995, U.S. astronaut Norman Thagard went aboard the Russian Soyuz TM-21 en route to Mir. Thagard, per an ABC News report, declined to pee in public: “It was broad daylight. I could see the pad from where the bus was and I wasn’t so sure that somebody with a telescopic lens could be shooting out there.”

Instead, he waited to use the space toilet.

Bonus Fact: The first American in space, Alan Shepard, didn’t pull a Gagarin before he went up into space. He probably should have. Shepard’s flight was delayed a few hours — safety checks and the like — and the delay resulted in a guy who had to go but couldn’t leave. So he went where he sat, soaking his spacesuit in the process.

From the ArchivesWhere No Sandwich Has Gone Before: Space food.

Related: “Starman: The Truth Behind the Legend of Yuri Gagarin” by Jamie Doran and Piers Bizony. 4.3 stars on 28 reviews.