Thursday, 7 November 2013

NEWS: Russia To Take Olympic Torch To Space Ahead Of 2014 Winter Games In Sochi

Three new crew members blast off Thursday for the
International Space Station (ISS) on a Russian rocket,
taking with them the precious cargo of an Olympic torch
for the 2014 Winter Games in the Black Sea resort of
In an unprecedented move, the Olympic torch will on
Saturday be taken out into open space on a spacewalk
by two Russian cosmonauts to mark Russia's hosting of
the Games in February.
The Soyuz-FG rocket and Soyuz-TMA capsule,
emblazoned with the symbols of the Sochi Games and
the Olympic rings, have already been installed on the
lauch pad of Russia's Baikonur cosmodrome in
In a sign of the launch's importance, it will be broadcast
live on a big screen to thousands of people watching in
New York's Times Square, according to NASA.
The Soyuz will at 0414 GMT on Thursday take Mikhail
Tyurin of Russia, Japan's Koichi Wakata and NASA
astronaut Rick Mastracchio on the six-hour trip to the
There they will join six incumbent crew on board, the first
time since October 2009 that nine people have served
together aboard the space station without the presence
of the now retired US space shuttle.
On board they will find station commander Fyodor
Yurchikhin of Russia and flight engineers Karen Nyberg
of NASA, Italy's Luca Parmitano, Russian Oleg Kotov,
NASA's Mike Hopkins and Russian Sergei Ryazansky.
Kotov and Ryazansky will from 1430 GMT on Saturday
carry the Olympic torch on a spacewalk outside the
station. Russian officials have made clear that the torch
will at no point be lit, for safety reasons.
In a crammed few days for the ISS, Yurchikhin, Nyberg
and Parmitano will then end their five-and-a-half-month
mission and return to Earth, touching down in
Kazakhstan at 0250 on Monday.
Joining them on the return after its brief spell in space
will be the torch, which will later be used to light the
Olympic flame at the Fisht stadium in Sochi for the
opening ceremony on February 7.
The return to Earth will draw the curtain on a dramatic
mission for European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut
Parmitano, who suffered a scare during a spacewalk on
July 16 when his helmet began to fill with an unidentified
He described being blinded and suffocating as he
struggled to make his way back to the airlock.
NASA said a part of his American spacesuit suspected of
causing a water leak during the spacewalk has been
carefully packed for inspection by engineers on the
The high-profile Olympics mission comes as Russia
seeks to prove that its mostly Soviet-designed systems
are reliable enough to continue humans' conquest of
The 2011 retirement of the US Space Shuttle programme
made the Soyuz — whose basic principles are little
changed since the first manned spaceflight by Yuri
Gagarin in 1961 — the world's last remaining manned
link with the ISS.
But Russia has been recently blighted by a string of
space failures that include the July 2 explosion shortly
after take-off from Baikonur of an unmanned Proton-M
In an apparent response to the problems, Russian Prime
Minister Dmitry Medvedev on October 10 fired the head
of the state space agency Roscomos Vladimir Popovkin
after just two-and-a-half years in the job.
Oleg Ostapenko, previously deputy defence minister,
was appointed the new Roscosmos chief.


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