Three astronauts from Japan, Russia and the United States were launched into space on Thursday, carrying with them an unlit Olympic torch that will be taken for the first time in the outer space to mark the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.
The Soyuz-FG rocket and Soyuz-TMA capsule, emblazoned with the symbols of the Sochi Games and the Olympic rings, blasted off from Russia’s Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for the International Space Station (ISS) at 8:14am Moscow time (0414 GMT).
The Soyuz-TMA capsule carrying NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio, Russia’s Mikhail Tyurin and Japan’s Koichi Wakata docked six hours later.
“The Soyuz TMA-11M manned capsule docked successfully with the ISS at 14:27 Moscow time (10:27 GMT),” the Russian space agency Roscomos said.
The torch will be taken on a space walk by two Russian astronauts who are already on board. It will be kept unlit for safety reasons.
“We all understand and have a responsible attitude because the torch is a symbol and therefore it needs to be treated with respect and maybe even reverence,” cosmonaut Tyurin said, according to the international press.
The torch will be taken back to Earth and will be used to light the Olympic flame at the Fisht stadium in Sochi for the opening ceremony of the Games on February 7.
After a brief stay on the ISS, the torch will then be taken back to Earth by the three astronauts now finishing their five-and-a-half-month mission on the ISS. They are due to touch down in Kazakhstan on Monday at 0250 GMT.