The Sochi Olympic torch took a rather large detour this week, blasting off to the International Space Station and taking a journey into open space for the first time in history.
While the torch wasn’t actually lit for the walk (it wouldn’t stay that way anyway), a pair of Russian cosmonauts took the silver-and-red torch as they crawled through a hatch and stepped outside the International Space Station on Saturday.
Oleg Kotov held the torch in his gloved hand and waved it triumphantly some 200 miles above Earth, reports NBC News. He then handed the torch off to Sergei Ryazansky and they took turns posing with it, using the orbiting science station and the Earth as backdrops. Ryazansky commented, “That’s a beautiful view.”
Most of the footage was taken using cameras mounted on the cosmonauts’ space suits, and the Sochi Olympic torch’s journey in space was broadcast live on NASA’s internet channel, as well as Russian state television.
A three-man Russian, American, and Japanese crew took the torch with them on a Soyuz rocket that took off from the Baikonur cosmodrome on Thursday, notes ABC News. It will return to Earth on Monday with a three-man crew returning from their mission on the ISS. Understandably, the torch wasn’t lit while on the space outpost, because lighting it burns off precious oxygen crew members need to survive.
The 1996 Olympic torch was taken into space aboard the US space shuttle Atlantis in 1996 to promote the Atlanta Summer Olympics. However, that torch never made it outside the spacecraft. The jaunt to space was part of Russia’s torch relay, which is the longest before any Winter Olympics.
The flame is on a 40,000 mile trek that also took it to the North Pole on an atomic-powered icebreaker. It will also make an appearance on Europe’s highest peak, Mt. Elbrus. Dmitry Kozak, the deputy prime minister in charge of the Olympics, explained that the long torch relay “is a way to show the world what Russia is made of.”
[Image by NASA/Victor Zelentsov]