The Sochi Olympic torch will be sent to the International Space Station when the Soyuz TMA-11M rocket launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Thursday. Photo: AP Photo
Baikonur, Kazakhstan: For the first time in history, the Olympic torch will be taken on a space walk.
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.
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.
The Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic torch is carried by a torchbearer riding atop a deer sleigh in the West Siberian town of Novy Urengoy, 2342 km north-east of Moscow. Photo: AFP Photo
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.
For safety reasons, the torch will not burn when it's on-board 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 space walk.
The Olympic torch has flown into space before - in 1996 aboard the US space shuttle Atlantis for the Atlanta Summer Olympics - but it has never yet been taken outside a spacecraft.
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.
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.
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 65,000-kilometre 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-board 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 5642 metres 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.