Every four years, the Olympic torch travels the globe. It is a tradition for runners to carry the torch from Olympia, Greece, to wherever each winter or summer Olympic Games is taking place. Olympic torches have been taken to some extraordinary places: A few have even traveled into space. And the 2014 Winter Games torch just became the first to venture into open outer space—outside a spacecraft.
On November 9, cosmonauts (Russian astronauts) Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazanskiy took the red-and-silver torch with them on a six-hour space walk outside the International Space Station (ISS), 260 miles above Earth.
Traditionally, the torch is kept lit during its travels. But lighting a fire inside a spacecraft would use up the space station’s air supply very quickly, so the torch was not lit in space.
The astronauts passed the torch back and forth to each other—similar to the way runners perform a handoff during the relay back on Earth. During the space walk, the torch was kept on a tether so that it would not float away. The astronauts used their helmet cams to take photos and video of the torch, with Earth in the background.
The outer-space leg of the 2014 Winter Games torch relay took several days. A crew of three delivered the torch to the ISS on November 7, and it was handed to Russian Olympic officials back on Earth on November 11.
Runners are continuing the 39,000-mile relay across Russia toward the city of Sochi, where the well-traveled torch will be used to light the Olympic cauldron (a large kettle) during the Opening Ceremony on February 7, 2014.