An unlit Olympic torch will be launched to the International Space Station, as part of a campaign promoting the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, to join two Russian astronauts performing a spacewalk
Although an Olympic torch has been sent to space on two previous occasions in 1996 and 2000, Russia’s undertaking is the first to bring the symbol of the Olympics into open space outside the protective environment of the station.
For this purpose, the torch had to be redesigned to comply with safety regulations. The torch will stay unlit for the duration of its stay in space as its gas canisters have been removed.
“The Olympic torch designed for outer space is almost the same as the one designed for the Earth,” said Sergei Krikalyev, head of the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre. “The only difference is that the former lacks gas,” he said, explaining that despite being a part of the 65,000-km Olympic light relay, the torch won’t be lit at any point of the flight as the actual Olympic flame will remain to burn on Earth.
“Although the torch will certainly reach the International Space Station, no flame will be lit inside or outside the ISS,” Krikalyov explained. “First, fire does not burn in outer space. Second, the ISS fire safety regulations strictly forbid the use of open fire inside the station.”
Krikalyev also explained that further safety mechanisms have been added to the torch's design in order to make sure the Olympic Games symbol won’t fly away when cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazansky take it out for a spacewalk next Sunday.
“An additional fixation element was added to make it possible to attach the torch to the EVA (Extra Vehicular Activity) suit so that it does not fly away by accident,” Krikalyov said.
“It is kind of hard to hold the torch in a spacesuit glove. That's why there is a safety ring just in case the EVA crew member drops the torch. Sometimes they will need to hold on to the safety railings and not hold on to the torch itself."
The space torch – a part of a massive campaign intended to boost Russia’s international image – will be launched together with Russian Mikhail Tyurin, American Rick Mastracchio and Japan's Koichi Wakata aboard a Soyuz capsule from Russia’s Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on 7 November.
It will stay in orbit for four days before returning back to Earth with the departing crew members Fyodor Yurchikhin, Karen Nyberg and Luca Parmitano on 11 November.
According to Russian astronaut Oleg Kotov, the goal of the project is offer global audiences a unique show. "We'd like to showcase our Olympic torch in space. We will try to do it in a beautiful manner. Millions of people will see it live on TV and they will see the station and see how we work."
Russia has previously had the torch transported to the North Pole, board an atomic-powered ice breaker, carried up to Mount Elbrus, the highest peak of Europe, and dive into to depths of Siberia's Lake Baikal.
"The Olympics are a huge international event that takes many, many countries cooperating and working together to pull off such a tremendous event," American astronaut Rick Mastracchio said during a pre-launch conference in Baikonur.
"So in a small way, I think it's great that we bring this symbol up to the International Space Station, which is another representation of international cooperation."