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Soyuz carrying Olympic torch docks with ISS

08 November 2013, 09:40

Moscow - A Russian spacecraft carrying three astronauts and an unlit Olympic torch docked successfully with the International Space Station (ISS), Russian mission control said.

"We have arrived," a mission control spokesperson said as Russian television showed live footage of docking of the Soyuz-TMA capsule carrying Russian, US and Japanese astronauts and the torch for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.

The torch will be taken into space itself - making it the Olympic flame's first spacewalk in history.

Russia's Mikhail Tyurin, Nasa's Rick Mastracchio and Koichi Wakata of Japan beamed at the crowd as they carried the lit torch aboard the Soyuz rocket before the launch.

For safety reasons, the torch will not burn when it's onboard the space outpost. Lighting it would consume precious oxygen and pose a threat to the crew. The crew will carry the unlit torch around the station's numerous modules before taking it out on a spacewalk.

Longest relay

The Olympic torch has flown into space once before - in 1996 aboard the US space shuttle Atlantis for the Atlanta Summer Olympics - but will be taken outside the spacecraft for the first time in history.

"It's a great pleasure and responsibility getting to work with this symbol of peace," Tyurin told journalists on Wednesday ahead of the launch.

The torch will remain in space for five days. Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazanskiy, who are currently manning the ISS, will take the flame for a spacewalk on Saturday, before it is returned to earth by three astronauts on Monday.

The four-month Sochi torch relay, which started in Moscow on 7 October, is the longest in the history of the Olympics. For most of the 65 000km route, the flame will travel by plane, train, car and even reindeer sleigh, but 14 000 torch bearers 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, and in February it will reach the peak of Mount Elbrus, at 5 642m the highest mountain in Russia and Europe.

The torch will be used to light the Olympic flame at Sochi's stadium on 7 February, marking the start of the 2014 Winter Games that run until 23 February.


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