Russian cosmonauts take Olympic torch on historic spacewalk | world | Hindustan Times
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Russian cosmonauts take Olympic torch on historic spacewalk

Two cosmonauts, Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazansky, took the Olympic torch – unlit – for a spacewalk today in a historic showcasing of Russia's hosting of the Sochi Winter Olympic Games in three months' time.

world Updated: Nov 09, 2013 21:43 IST

Two cosmonauts took the Olympic torch – unlit – for a spacewalk Saturday in a historic showcasing of Russia's hosting of the Sochi Winter Olympic Games in three months' time.

Cosmonaut Oleg Kotov ventured outside the International Space Station (ISS) with the torch held ceremonially in his gloved hand. The torch was tethered safely to his bulky spacesuit to make sure it did not spin away in orbit 260 miles (420 kilometres) above the Earth.

The flashy moment was captured on high-tech video and photo equipment operated by fellow cosomonaut Sergei Ryazansky, who preceded Kotov out the airlock.

"Beautiful," Ryazansky exclaimed as Kotov proudly waved the torch in front of the camera while floating almost directly above Australia.

"It is hard to believe that this is happening," a commentator on Russian state television exclaimed as the first images of the spacewalk were beamed live across the nation.

"Something this beautiful has never happened before," the Russian commentator said.

It was the very first time the Olympic symbol entered open space – a no-expense-spared triumph for Russia as it showed off its prowess in science and sport.

Russia was promoting its first Olympic event since the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow were boycotted by a bloc of Western nations because of the Soviet Union's invasion at the time of Afghanistan.

Moscow has already sent the feather-shaped red-and-grey torch symbolising universal peace and friendship to the North Pole aboard a nuclear-powered icebreaker. It will soon visit the bottom of Baikal – the world's deepest freshwater lake.

All are extravagant reminders from President Vladimir Putin's government about the breadth of both Russia's ambitions and its natural wealth.

But little compares to the pride Russia has taken in shooting the torch up to the ISS aboard the same type of rocket the Soviets used for launching pioneering spaceman Yuri Gagarin in 1961.

"Taking the Olympic torch to space – only we are capable of that," a state television presenter boasted on Thursday during a news show about the upcoming February 7-23 Sochi Games.

The bold claim is not actually true. Torches also left the planet aboard US space shuttle voyages ahead of the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta and the 2000 event in Sydney.

But never has a torch been taken out for a spacewalk until Saturday.

'Not a bad idea'
Space officials stressed that safety precautions meant the torch remained unlit while inside the ISS at all times. And flames outside the station are impossible because of the lack of oxygen.

"We do not intend to set fire to anything, including the Olympic torch," cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin joked on Friday during a video hookup from the space station.

Russia had nevertheless at one point contemplated sending the actual flame up to the station by encasing it in a special lantern.

Vitaly Davydov of the Roscosmos space agency set the debate rolling by remarking in 2011 that such a space shot "is not a bad idea (that) is theoretically possible".

More cautious senior Russian officials eventually decided that lighting a fire aboard a Soyuz rocket filled with tonnes of explosive fuel was not a wise choice.

Internationally agreed rules governing the ISS itself forbid flames from being lit on the orbiting lab because they would burn up the limited supplies of oxygen available to the crew.

But the symbolism of the spacewalk with the unlit torch still received global promotion, including being aired live on screens at New York's Times Square.

Kotov and Ryazansky explained before their mission that the torch would spend slightly more than five hours out in open space.

They intend to spend the first hour of that time taking pictures and videos of each other holding the torch before setting off to do some maintenance and other routine work on the 15-year-old orbiter.