Two cosmonauts have taken the Olympic torch for a spacewalk three months ahead of the Sochi winter contest. The torch – unlit – will return from the International Space Station to Earth on Monday.
Two Russian cosmonauts made history on Saturday by showcasing the torch for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics for the first time in space, outside the International Space Station (ISS).
The torch was not burning because lighting it would consume precious oxygen inside the ISS and pose a risk for its crew.
Torches also left the planet aboard US space shuttles ahead of the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta and the 2000 event in Sydney. But never had a torch been taken out for a spacewalk until Saturday.
Moment over Australia
Veteran cosmonaut Oleg Kotov held the torch ceremonially in his gloved hand as the moment was filmed by fellow cosmonaut Sergei Ryazansky, who was making his first ever spacewalk.
At the time, the ISS was orbiting the earth 260 kilometers above Australia.
The pair spent an hour taking turns to hold the torch as the event was beamed live across Russia, mostly from cameras mounted on the cosmonauts' helmets.
First since Soviet era
The planned Sochi winter games represent Russia's first Olympic event since the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow. They were boycotted by Western nations in protest against the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan.
Ahead of Sochi, Russia has already sent the torch to the North Pole aboard a nuclear-powered icebreaker. It plans to soon visit the bottom of Baikal, the world's deepest freshwater lake.
On Earth, the torch weights almost 2 kilograms (4.4 lbs).
Returning on Monday
A three-man Russian, American and Japanese crew carried the torch up on a Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur cosmodrome on Thursday.
It will be returned to Earth on Monday by Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, US astronaut Karen Nyberg and Italian Luca Parmitano and handed over to Sochi officials.
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 is scheduled to run until February 23.
ipj/slk (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)