NASA osculates religion again

Well, this ceremony—The Blessing of the Astronauts—took place in Kazakhstan, but it was still posted by NASA. Jebus—it’s the equivalent of Indian scientists going to the temple for blessings before they launch a satellite. And it’s sheer madness: the juxtaposition of a ludicrous medieval theology with a modern science that actually works. Note how the astronauts kiss the cross.

h/t: Bryan L.


  1. Mike
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    Another example of cognitive dissonance.

    • Frank
      Posted July 7, 2016 at 10:18 am | Permalink

      Such backward thinking … every rational person knows that this sort of thing doesn’t work unless you also sacrifice a goat.

      • steve oberski
        Posted July 7, 2016 at 10:27 am | Permalink

        … in a volcano.

        • bluemaas
          Posted July 7, 2016 at 11:10 am | Permalink

          … … and, then if female and virginal, sacrifice yourself and jump in after that goat.

          Not ?

          • Kevin
            Posted July 7, 2016 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

            Not before goat and virgin are skinned first.

  2. steve oberski
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    You can pick up a nasty infection that way.

    Holy water–a risk factor for hospital-acquired infection.


    A case of hospital-acquired infection due to Acinetobacter baumanii in a burns patient after exposure to holy water is described. In order to assess the infection risk, 13 samples of holy water were cultured for bacteria, (including legionellae) and yeasts. Viable bacterial counts ranged from 1 center dot 3 x 10(3)-3 center dot 8 x 10(8) cfu/L (mean 3 center dot 1 x 10(7) cfu/L). A wide range of bacterial species was isolated including Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Enterobacter spp. Escherichia coli and Aeromonas hydrophila. Candida spp. were isolated from two samples, but legionellae from none. Holy water would, therefore, seem to be a potential risk factor for hospital-acquired infection.

    • Posted July 8, 2016 at 12:55 am | Permalink

      Why hospital acquired? Holy water is most often found in Catholic churches.

      • Posted July 8, 2016 at 1:51 am | Permalink

        I remember as a child thinking that holy water from the font at the church entry might not be hygienic. How could it be with so many people dipping their fingers in it?

        This may have been obvious to other children too, but not to adults, as was the nakedness of the Emperor.

        I also wondered why during electrical storms, my grandmother turned off all the lights and lit holy candles. I was not afraid of the lightning because there appeared to be no reason why lightning should strike my grandmother’s house rather than 100,000 other houses in the city.

        I can’t remember why I though that about lightning risk, but it still seems to be valid in the absence of any knowledge about electricity.

        And all I knew at the age of five was that putting my finger in an empty lamp socket gave me a jolt up the arm all the way down to my feet. I only did it once.

        Many years later, I watched contractors test lamp sockets by poking a finger in, but by then I knew the sockets were only 110 volts and the contractors were not fully grounded.

        • HaggisForBrains
          Posted July 8, 2016 at 4:25 am | Permalink

          Do not try this in the UK! ~240 volts here.

  3. GodlessMarkets
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    I agree, but in the video, the expressions on the astronauts seem to waiver between “this-is-freaking-absurd” to low-level bemusement. And I know its off topic, but that frigate bird post yesterday was just awesome.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted July 7, 2016 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      PCC(E) won’t hammer us for OT stuff – I first heard the bird story it on NPR, expecting something lame. Pleasant surprise.

  4. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    Imagine the legal hoops the priest had to jump through to get that gig – I mean, if the recent FFRF story is any indication …

    Oh but I’m just being sarcastic – of course it’s not serious, it’s just a patronizing gesture so the local backwards peasant folk will let them on their land …. oh but I’m just being mean, it’s about … this isn’t going well, is it.

  5. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Here I thought you had been using “osculate” metaphorically all this time.

    Turns out astronauts and crosses been making out like Dubya & Joe Lieberman at a SOTU address.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted July 7, 2016 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      I think JAC oscillates in his use of osculate.

  6. Posted July 7, 2016 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Doubles as a preemptive exorcism to dislodge engine residue.

  7. mdeschane
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Kate Rubins reaction to being batted in the face with the crucifix is classic.

  8. Heather Hastie
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    What’s the bet the famously, though fairly recently, devout Putin has something to do with this. I’m sure it plays well on Russian tv.

    If someone wants a private blessing, go ahead, but these public ceremonies for people who look like they think it’s a bit of a joke is just embarrassing.

    • Filippo
      Posted July 7, 2016 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      As I recall, at least one Soviet cosmonaut (in the wake of certain U.S. astronauts waxing supernaturally poetic while in orbit and/or en route to/from the moon) reporting to the effect that he did not see any evidence of God while peering into the void from orbit.

      (Gets me to wondering if the NASA astronaut application has ever had a “religious affiliation” section.)

      I can’t imagine that the Land of “In God We Trust” will allow itself to be outdone by the Russians vis-a-vis religious ritual and posturing. May one expect future U.S. launches to be sprinkled with holy water, like Louisiana bayou shrimp boats?

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted July 7, 2016 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

        Ha! Good on the cosmonaut.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted July 7, 2016 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

      The Russian bear’s about due for another revolution anyway. The Bolshevik centenary’s right around the corner.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted July 7, 2016 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

        Geez! Don’t say that mate! Putin’s enough trouble as it is!

        My site has a huge number of subscribers from Russia. I’ve often wondered why. I’ve written some pretty damning things about Putin and he’s extremely popular at home. Maybe more people are starting to question the number of people who conveniently die or are discovered to have committed crimes as soon as they speak out against Putin.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted July 7, 2016 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

          Speaking of your site, Heather, I tried to re-access your item on Hillary again yesterday, and the link in Jerry’s post wasn’t working. I had no trouble with it the day before.

          Nice piece, BTW. I agree with what you wrote … well, most of it, anyway. 🙂

          • Heather Hastie
            Posted July 7, 2016 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

            Thanks Ken. It was down for a few hours yesterday. An update to the backup software didn’t agree with it. All fixed now thank goodness. 🙂

    • Michael Waterhouse
      Posted July 7, 2016 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

      That was my first thought too.

  9. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Well, there are apologists for both humanism and new age religion that compare old time religion to a “booster rocket”.

    Of course, by that metaphor, the rocket is supposed to fall away and be discarded once you are in orbit!!

    • Posted July 7, 2016 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

      As far as I know, Russian spacecrafts are indeed scheduled to be discarded, if not in orbit, then before re-entry, and only a small module with the crew returns to Earth.

  10. JohnJay
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    Since the fall of the USSR, Russian orthodox priests have blessed not only the crew, but the rocket, as well. There are many such traditions in a Russian manned launch. This first came to light during the Mir program, when US astronauts launched to the Russian station and had to train in Russia. I always thought most government agencies were (and remained) non-religious. When I saw all these superstitions and rituals, I was really shocked.

    One ritual that continues is the drive to the launch pad pit stop. On the first manned launch, Uri Gagarin asked the van to stop so he could pee before being sealed in his capsule. All launches since then, halfway to the pad, the van stops, and the cosmonauts get out and pee of the back right tire of the van. Since now women may be on a crew, (as is the case today) as far as I know, they stay in the van.

    • Posted July 7, 2016 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

      I was going to say prayers and cross-kissings are probably SOP before being launched in a Soyuz rocket.

  11. Grania Spingies
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    It’s just flat-out rude to expect strangers to kiss your religious icon. It’s not even the majority religion in Kazakhstan.

    And seeing as KZ also has a type of Constitutional religious freedom, the orthodox priests really ought to have been asked to knock it off a long time ago.

  12. jimroberts
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    In the long gone days of my Christian interlude, I would have considered it idolatrous to kiss a cross, and I would expect any decent protestant to have the same attitude now. But astronauts, probably at most nominally Christian, or even atheist, might well just go along with it.

    • Posted July 7, 2016 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

      Orthodox Christianity is different from Protestant in this respect.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted July 7, 2016 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

        Yeah there’s a lot of cross kissing with the Orthodox Christians. It seems really unhygenic.

  13. Posted July 7, 2016 at 4:04 pm | Permalink


  14. madscientist
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

    I suspect it’s more of a “look at this quaint ritual” sort of thing rather than promoting superstition as such. This was something of a routine even during the Soviet era – I’m sure the corpse of Josef Stalin wouldn’t approve.

  15. rickflick
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

    For NASA, I think this is a case of – “when in Rome”. They probably decided to observe any absurd practices that were customary, so as not to offend their very important hosts.
    Naturally, the astronauts are complying with rules set out by their boss – NASA. I think this kind of thing is practiced by foreign politicians and diplomats as a way of keeping relationships on track – since Russia is providing trips to orbit to fill the gulf between Shuttle and U.S. commercial service. I remember when Indiana Jones felt compelled to eat large beetles when dining with his guests in some unknown part of India. We all do in on some small way.

    • Filippo
      Posted July 7, 2016 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

      ” . . . since Russia is providing trips to orbit to fill the gulf between Shuttle and U.S. commercial service.”

      I wonder if the U.S. commercial service(s) will require astronauts to genuflect before (a blown-up facsimile of) The Almighty Dollar?

      Does the U.S. taxpayer get some crumb of a return on investment in these commercial companies? Or is it purely corporate welfare?

      • rickflick
        Posted July 7, 2016 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

        Blue Horizon and SpaceX are developing rockets that can be reused, which should save the U.S. government a bundle. If they can fly cargoes cheaper than the Ruskies, what a wonderful cooperative venture this will turn out to be.

        • Filippo
          Posted July 8, 2016 at 7:02 am | Permalink

          “If they can fly cargoes cheaper than the Ruskies, what a wonderful cooperative venture this will turn out to be.”

          Cheaper is fine, insofar as cheaper goes. Will they also be eventually transporting U.S. astronauts? (With the noises the U.S. gov’t is making about Russian aggression, I can’t imagine the U.S. wants to hitch-hike any longer than it has too.) I contemplate the correlative/causative relationship between efficiency and safety, especially where for-profit entities are concerned.

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