A torch for the 2014 Sochi Olympics lifted off for the International Space Station on Wednesday night, accompanied by three new crew members for the orbiting outpost.
Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin, NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio and Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) launched on Russia’s Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Their Soyuz FG rocket climbed spaceward at 11:14 p.m., marking the start of the crew’s four-orbit, six-hour journey to the station.
The booster and its launch pad was specially outfitted for this flight to celebrate the torch being aboard and the 22nd Winter Games being hosted in Sochi, Russia. The rocket and the protective shroud shielding the Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft were decorated with Olympic-inspired graphics. The launch pad was equipped with metal Olympic rings.
“The Olympic torch, in the history of mankind, is probably the most ancient symbol of peace,” Tyurin said during a pre-launch news conference. “It is a great pleasure and it is a great responsibility we are to work with this symbol of peace.”
“I think it’s great that we’re bringing this symbol [of peace] up to the space station, which is another representation of international cooperation,” Mastracchio added. “It is great that we can tie these two events, the Olympics and the International Space Station. We are happy to be a small part of it.”