Three ISS crew members have safely returned back to Earth carrying the Olympic symbol after making history with the first ever torch handover in open space.
The Soyuz TMA-09M spacecraft has successfully landed in the steps of Kazakhstan in Central Asia. The three crew members – NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg, Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano and Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin – spent five and a half months in orbit.
On Saturday, Russian cosmonauts for the first time in human
history took the Olympic torch on a spacewalk. The
“cosmic” torch will be the one to light the Olympic flame
Although the torch was carried into space on two prior occasions – for the 1996 Atlanta games and Olympic Games in Sydney in 2000 – up until now it has not been taken on a spacewalk.
The open space stage of the torch relay lasted an hour out of the six-hour-long mission of the Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazansky.
While in space the torch was not burning as open flame is not permitted on the ISS. The torch will be relit upon its return on Earth, and will eventually light the main flame of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics on February 7.
The torch was delivered to the ISS on Thursday by Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin, NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata. The reinforcements will remain on the ISS with NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins and cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy.