Photograph by Sergei Ilnitsky, EPA

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Russian specialists of the Mission Control Center in Korolyov, near Moscow, Russia work in front screens showing Expedition 38 Soyuz Commander Mikhail Tyurin (front, C-R) of Roscosmos and team with the Olympic torch.

Photograph by Sergei Ilnitsky, EPA

Olympic Torch Takes First Spacewalk

Cosmonauts celebrate the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics on the International Space Station.

In space, no one can hear you cheer. But cosmonauts will take the Olympic torch aloft anyway, on a Saturday spacewalk from the International Space Station.

The six-hour spacewalk was already planned for maintenance purposes on the space station, says Jay Bolden of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, which manages station operations. (Also see "Olympic Torch in Need of a Light.")

The Olympic Flame travels from Greece to the host country for the opening ceremonies at every Olympics. From February 7 to 23, 2014, Russia will host the Winter Games in Sochi. (See "The Sochi Olympics' Snow Problems.")

Cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazansky will secure the Olympic torch outside the station after exiting the airlocks to begin their maintenance efforts.

Taking the torch on the spacewalk was an add-on to the maintenance work that was already planned. "This is a mission of opportunity, in a sense," Bolden says. "Not a stunt for stunt's sake."

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The torch will not be lit while it is aboard the International Space Station to forestall a fire hazard on the tightly confined orbiting laboratory. The torch will simply accompany the cosmonauts on the spacewalk but won't be part of their maintenance efforts, Bolden says.

"It will be perfectly safe; they are very well trained," says MIT aerospace engineer Dava Newman, an expert on spacewalks. "It will essentially be like carrying tools, which they do all the time. And it will be a good celebration of the Olympics and of the space station."

The torch should return to Earth on Sunday, according to NASA's Joshua Byerly, along with returning space station crew members Fyodor Yurchikhin of the Russian Federal Space Agency, Karen Nyberg of NASA, and Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency. The torch will feature in the Sochi opening ceremonies on February 7, 2014.

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