Soyuz TMA-11M rocket with Sochi Olympic torch blasts off into space
Russia's Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft carrying the 38th/39th expedition to the International Space Station (ISS) and a torch for next year's Sochi Winter Olympic Games lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Thursday.
"The spacecraft reached its near-Earth orbit approximately nine minutes [after takeoff]. It is expected to dock with the ISS at 2:32 p.m. Moscow time," a spokesman for the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) told Interfax-AVN.
ISS crewmembers will take the Olympic torch on a spacewalk on November 9. The torch will be returned to the Earth on November 11 and will then be used to light the Olympic cauldron in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi in February 2014.
The Soyuz TMA-11M, which was designed and built by the Energia Rocket and Space Corporation, based outside of Moscow, is carrying Mikhail Tyurin (Russia), Rick Mastracchio (the United States) and Koici Wakata (Japan), who will spend the next six months onboard the ISS.
Russia's Fyodor Yurchikhin, Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazansky, NASA astronauts Karen Nyberg and Michael Hopkins, as well as European astronaut Luca Parmitano are currently working onboard the orbiting outpost.
The hatches between the Soyuz TMA-11M and the ISS will be opened at approximately 4:40 p.m., after which the new crewmembers will be welcomed onboard the ISS, and Tyurin will hand over the Olympic torch to Yurchikhin.
Russian cosmonauts Kotov and Ryazansky will carry out the November 9 spacewalk. They will carry the Olympic torch into space at around 6:36 p.m. on Saturday and will conduct a photo session with it for an hour.
During the spacewalk, which will continue until 0:09 a.m. Moscow time, the ISS crewmembers will also have to remove the Yakor (Anchor) platform from the Zvezda Module's transfer section, place it at a remote task station and install a portable steerable beam at the same site. Their operations will also include dismantling other equipment and, if they have time, taking photos of the surface of the ISS Russian segment in order to subsequently check it for the presence of damage caused by micro-meteorites and space debris.
The Olympic torch is expected to be brought back to the Earth on November 11 by Yurchikhin, Nyberg and Parmitano, who will leave the ISS onboard the Soyuz TMA-09M spacecraft. The landing capsule carrying them is expected to touch down on the Kazakh steppe at 6:50 a.m. on November 11. An airplane with Yurchikhin and the Olympic torch onboard should land at the Chkalovsky airfield in the Moscow region at 2:00 p.m.
Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee President Dmitry Chernyshenko said earlier that "this is the torch that will be used to light the Olympic cauldron in Sochi."