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Sochi Olympic torch to conquer final frontier

Flame to go on four-hour-long space walk Saturday
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Expedition 38 flight engineer Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (left), Soyuz commander Mikhail Tyurin of Roscosmos (middle) and flight engineer Rick Mastracchio of NASA smile and wave as they hold the Olympic torch. -NASA/Bill Ingalls

The Olympic torch was launched into orbit Thursday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome and delivered to the International Space Station by a three-person international crew of astronauts.

"Once Russia was the first country that has been able to send a man into space," the president of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Organizing Committee, Dmitry Chernyshenko, told the media. "Today we are setting new Olympic record -- we are sending into the space the Olympic flame."

The head of the organizing committee also said that the launch of the torch into orbit would be a symbol of the infinite possibilities of man and his desire to conquer the incredible sports heights as well as impress the world with new records.

The Olympic torch took to the air Thursday at 8:14 a.m. (Moscow time). Once on board the International Space Station (ISS), it was delivered by the manned transport spacecraft Soyuz-TMA-11M.

The spaceship has its own characteristic Olympic features: It is decorated with symbols of the Olympic Games, and the Olympic torch adorns the uniform of astronauts.

The flame was brought to the station by the spaceship captain Mikhail Tyurin and his international team of Japanese Koichi Wakata and NASA astronaut Richard Mastracchio.

"The Olympic Games bring together all nations. Due to the torch, we feel involved in this event. This time, we will not only fly into space, but we will also support the Olympic Torch Relay," Mastracchio told Channel One.

"In human history, the Olympic flame is the most ancient symbol of peace, and it is a very pleasant, responsible and reverent event," Tyurin noted.

The torch won't burn on board the space outpost because 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, and all members of the ISS crew will be involved in this honorable event.

The apex of this mission will be the Olympic torch physically going out into open space. This will take place Saturday, Nov. 9.

The symbol of Sochi 2014 will stay in open space for about four hours, and the whole process will be televised back on earth. The Olympic torch will remain at the orbital station for five days and will return to its home planet Nov. 11.

Oleg Kotov is one of two cosmonauts on the station who will go on the space walk Saturday.

He told reporters, "We'd like to showcase our Olympic torch in space. We will try to do it in a beautiful manner. Millions of people will see it live on TV, and they will see the station and see how we work."

Since the start of the Olympic Torch Relay a month ago, the Olympic flame has visited 50 Russian cities. About 1,000 torchbearers have taken part in the relay, including well-known athletes, artists, politicians and Russian citizens.

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