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On Thursday, November 7th, 2013, exactly a month after it began its extensive travel schedule, the Sochi Olympics torch will embark on the longest leg of its 40,000-mile relay - a trip to the International Space Station aboard the Soyuz spacecraft along with three new crew members: Russia's Mikhail Tyurin, NASA's Rick Mastracchio and Japan's Koichi Wakata.
Once there, the torch will be carried to the station's various modules and on Saturday, November 9th, taken on a spacewalk by cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazanskiy. The astronauts will time their excursion such that the space station is flying over Russia so that videos and photos of the torch will feature Sochi, the venue of the 2014 Winter Olympics in the background. To ensure the safety of the astronauts and conserve the limited oxygen supply, the torch will not be lit at anytime during this expedition.
This is not the first time an Olympic torch has been taken to Space. In 1996, the crew of Space Shuttle Atlantis took aboard the torch for the Atlanta Summer Olympics. However that one never ventured outside the International Space Station.
And while this may be amongst the most exciting excursions that the Sochi Olympic torch will take, it is not the only one. Last month, it traveled to the North Pole aboard a Russian nuclear powered icebreaker. Later this month, it will head to the bottom of Lake Balkai, the world's deepest lake and before it all comes to an end on February 2014, even make its way to the peak of Mount Elbrus - The highest mountain on the European continent.
By the time the torch is brought to the Sochi Olympics stadium on February 7th, 2014, to light the cauldron that marks the beginning of the Games, it will have traveled over 40,000 miles, traversed 2,900 towns and cities and been carried by 14,000 torchbearers. Not surprisingly, it will go down in history as the most extensively traveled Olympics torch and the first, to experience a spacewalk. Also, while most people think that it is a single torch being passed from one torchbearer to another, the reality is that each is provided with his/her own torch which he/she can keep as a memento. That's because the spirit of the Olympics embodies passing the flame, not the torch.
The ritual of lighting a flame with a torch to mark the beginning of the Olympic games was started by the Greek in 776 B.C. when the first games were held at Olympia and continued until they came to a halt, about a thousand years later. However, it did not start immediately when the modern Olympics was born in Athens in 1896. In fact, it took 32 years before the cauldron was finally lit at the 1928 Amsterdam games and another 8 before the first torch relay was conducted for the 1938 Berlin Games. In 1952, Norway staged the first torch relay for the Winter Games and started a new tradition.
Resources: news.yahoo.com, torchrelay.sochi.com,BBC news.com