The Olympic torch will return to Earth aboard the Russian Soyuz space capsule tonight. The spacecraft is scheduled to land at 9:45 pm EST in Central Asia. Three astronauts will also be on board. NASA astronaut Karen Nyburg, Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, and Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano, are returning home from a mission that lasted more than five months.
The iconic torch made history on Saturday, as it was passed between two Russian cosmonauts outside the International Space Station. Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazansky exchanged the torch close to 200 miles above Earth’s surface.
Although the torch was launched into space in 1996 and 2000, it had never been in open space.
As reported by NBC News, the exchange was filmed and broadcast live on NASA’s Internet channel as well as Russian television. The spacewalk is the showcase event for the Sochi Games, which will begin in February.
The Olympic torch was delivered to the International Space Station by a team of three men from the United States, Russian, and Japan.
Deputy prime minister Dmitry Kozak said taking the torch to the space station is “a way to show the world what Russia is made of.” Russia’s torch relay is the longest in the history of the Winter Olympic games. The tour also included a stop at the North Pole, and will continue to the peak of Mount Elbrus. The complete tour will include nearly 40,000 miles.
According to Olympic.org, the history of the torch began in Ancient Greece, where fire was considered a divine element. The original flame was ignited using the sun’s rays and a mirror. The method is still used, as it is considered the only pure way to ignite a flame.
Some of the more interesting relays include an underwater trip to the Great Barrier Reef in Sydney, Australia, rides on horseback and camels, and a trip downriver in a Native American canoe.
Watch the Olympic torch return to Earth live online:
[Image via Flickr]