The unlit torch for the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Russian city of Sochi is to be taken on a space walk tomorrow.
The torch was blasted into space yesterday along with three astronauts heading for the International Space Station.
Their craft docked flawlessly with the space station about six hours after take-off from Russia’s manned space facility in Baikonur, Kazakhstan.
The Olympic torch will not burn onboard the space station because lighting it would consume precious oxygen and pose a threat to the crew, who will carry it around the station’s numerous modules before taking it out on a spacewalk.
It will then return to Earth on Monday with three departing space station astronauts.
The arriving crew members were Russia’s Mikhail Tyurin, American Rick Mastracchio and Koichi Wakata of Japan.
Tyurin said before the launch: “It’s a great pleasure and responsibility getting to work with this symbol of peace.”
Now that the newcomers have entered the space station following a long hatch-opening process, the orbiting lab has nine people aboard for the first time since 2009.
Fyodor Yurchikhin of Russia, Nasa’s Karen Nyberg, and Italian Luca Parmitano are the crew scheduled to return to Earth with the torch , landing on the steppes of Kazakhstan.
The Olympic torch was taken aboard the US space shuttle Atlantis in 1996 for the Atlanta Summer Olympics, but this is the first it time it will be taken outside a spacecraft.
Russians Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazanskiy will take the torch out of the space station while American Michael Hopkins remains inside.
The four-month Sochi torch relay, which started in Moscow on October 7, is the longest in the history of the Olympics. For most of the 39,000-mile route across Russia, it will travel by plane, train, car and even reindeer sleigh.
Some 14,000 torchbearers are taking part in the relay that stops at more than 130 cities and towns.
Last month, the Olympic flame travelled to the North Pole on a Russian nuclear-powered icebreaker. Later this month it will sink to the bottom of the world’s deepest lake, Lake Baikal.
In early February, it will reach the peak of Mount Elbrus, at 18,510 feet the highest mountain in Russia and Europe.
The torch will be used to light the Olympic flame at Sochi’s stadium on February 7, marking the start of the 2014 Winter Games that run until February 23.