BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan – For the first time in history, the Olympic flame will be taken on a spacewalk.
The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics torch will be sent to the International Space Station on board a Russian spacecraft this week and astronauts will then carry it outside the station. Here's a look at the Sochi torch.
THE SPACE CHARIOT
The torch will travel into Earth's orbit with the next space station crew, who blast off early Thursday from the Russian-operated Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Russia's Mikhail Tyurin, NASA's Rick Mastracchio and Koichi Wakata of Japan are heading to the space station on a Russian Soyuz rocket that has been emblazoned with the emblem of the Sochi Winter Games.
FLAMES IN SPACE
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.
A TORCH FIRST
The Olympic torch has flown into space before — in 1996 aboard the U.S. space shuttle Atlantis for the Atlanta Summer Olympics — but it has never yet been taken outside a spacecraft.
HANGING IN THE COSMOS
Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazanskiy, who are part of the space station's current crew, will take the torch into open space Saturday when they venture outside the station. Kotov says they are planning to take the video and photos of the torch, hopefully when the space station flies over Russia and the southern resort of Sochi can be seen in the background.
FALLING BACK TO EARTH
The torch will stay in space for five days until the returning crew takes it back to Earth next Monday, when Russian Fyodor Yurchikhin, NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg and Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency plan to land in Kazakhstan.
JUST PART OF THE JOURNEY
The four-month Sochi torch relay, which started in Moscow on Oct. 7, is the longest in the history of the Olympics. For most of the 65,000- kilometer (39,000-mile) 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 traveled to the North Pole onboard a Russian nuclear-powered icebreaker. Later this month it will sink to the bottom of the world's deepest lake, Lake Baikal. In February, the torch will be taken to the peak of Mount Elbrus, at 5,642 meters (18,510 feet) the highest mountain in Russia and Europe.
AND THE CLIMAX
The torch will be used to light the Olympic flame at Sochi's stadium on Feb. 7, marking the start of the 2014 Winter Games that run until Feb. 23.