Sochi Olympic torch taken on historic spacewalk

media captionCosmonauts took the unlit torch through the hatch of the International Space Station

Two Russian cosmonauts have taken the torch for the Sochi Winter Olympics on a historic first spacewalk, ahead of next year's Games in Russia.

Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazansky posed for photographs as they waved the torch outside the International Space Station (ISS) 261 miles (420km) above Earth.

The torch was unlit inside the ISS because of safety concerns and outside due to the lack of an oxygen system.

It was taken up to the space station on a Russian Soyuz rocket on Thursday.

The rocket 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 crew handed the Olympic symbol to Mr Kotov and Mr Ryazansky, who were already on the orbiting station ahead of Saturday's spacewalk.

The two cosmonauts took pictures and videos of each other holding the torch using helmet cameras.

The torch, which was tethered to their bulky spacesuits, spent more than an hour in open space.

Afterwards it was returned to the ISS, Mr Kotov and Mr Ryazansky carried out some maintenance on the orbiting station.

The event was seen as part of a rebranding exercise by Russia designed to portray it as a strong, modern country.

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

"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.

image captionCosmonaut Oleg Kotov took the Olympic torch on its first spacewalk
image captionThe torch taken by the three-man crew has not been lit on the ISS
image captionThe craft reached the space station six hours after leaving Earth on Thursday

It is not being lit aboard the space station as this would consume oxygen and pose a risk to the crew.

The Sochi torch is due to be returned to Earth on Monday and be used to light the Olympic cauldron in February next year.

The trip to the space station is all part of elaborate preparations for Russia's first Olympics since the Soviet era. The Games are the most expensive Olympics 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 by allegations from rights groups that authorities have rounded up migrant workers who helped build the Games venues in Sochi.

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