Sochi Olympic torch reaches space station

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Media captionTimelapse video of the Olympic torch blasting off into space

A Soyuz rocket carrying the torch for the Sochi Winter Olympics has docked with the International Space Station, as part of efforts to showcase next year's games in Russia.

On Saturday, two Russian cosmonauts will take it on a historic first spacewalk. The torch will not be lit.

The event is part of a rebranding exercise by Russia, designed to portray it as a strong, modern country, says the BBC's Daniel Sandford in Baikonur.

The rocket left Earth at 04:14:25 GMT.

It blasted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, crewed by three cosmonauts - Russia's Mikhail Tyurin, American Rick Mastracchio and Koichi Wakata from Japan.

The Olympic symbol will be handed over to fellow cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazansky, who are already on the orbiting station, when they go on the spacewalk on Saturday.

Image caption The craft reached the ISS six hours after leaving Earth
Image caption The torch will not be lit on the International Space Station

"Our goal here is to make it look spectacular," Mr Kotov said earlier.

"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."

The Olympic torch has been carried into space twice before - in 1996 and 2000 - but it has never left a spaceship. It will not be lit aboard the space station as this would consume oxygen and pose a risk to the crew.

The Sochi torch will then be returned to Earth and used to light the Olympic cauldron in February next year.

It is all part of the elaborate preparations for Russia's first Olympics since the Soviet era. It is also the most expensive one so far, costing around $50bn (£31bn; 1,620bn roubles).

The run-up to the games has been marred by controversy over a new Russian law that restricts the spread of information about homosexuality, as well as allegations by rights groups that authorities have rounded up migrant workers who helped build the Games venues in Sochi.

In yet another minor setback, the flame has gone out several times since the torch relay began last month.

Baikonur cosmodrome

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