News

Olympic Torch returns to Earth after trip to space

Olympic Torch returns to Earth after trip to space

TORCH IN SPACE: Russian astronaut Oleg Kotov holds an Olympic torch as he begins a spacewalk outside the International Space Station in this still image taken from video courtesy of NASA TV, Nov. 9. Photo: Reuters

By Shamil Zhumatov

NEAR ZHEZKAZGAN, Kazakhstan (Reuters) – A Russian spacecraft brought three astronauts and the Olympic torch back to Earth on Monday after the torch was taken on its first spacewalk in the run-up to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.

Russia’s Fyodor Yurchikhin beamed as he held up the silver-and-grey torch alongside American Karen Nyberg and Italian Luca Parmitano on the Kazakh steppe after returning from the International Space Station after a 166-day mission.

Slowed by parachutes and braking rockets fired to soften the impact, their Soyuz TMA-09M capsule landed on schedule at 8:49 a.m. (0249 GMT) after a three-and-half-hour descent.

“The Olympic torch is home after a four-day journey,” a NASA TV announcer said after the flawless descent through a cloudless sky and a “bulls-eye touchdown” in the tall tawny brush of central Kazakhstan, near the remote town of Zhezkazgan.

President Vladimir Putin, who has been in power since 2000, has staked his reputation on a successful Olympics. His image abroad has been damaged by what critics say is a clampdown on dissent, and a law banning homosexual “propaganda” among minors.

The torch was unlit throughout the space voyage, for safety reasons. That also precluded the possibility that the flame could fail – a problem that has occurred dozens of times, including an incident captured live on national television in which the torch went out in the Kremlin minutes after Putin presided over the start of the relay.

PHOTOS: Olympic Team USA Uniforms

Cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazansky took it with them on a spacewalk on Saturday, posing outside the orbiting station with the first Olympic torch taken into the vacuum of space.

After their return to Earth, Yurchikhin, Nyberg and Parmitano were pulled through the hatch of the cramped capsule, carried to chairs and covered with thick blankets against the minus 4 Centigrade (25 Fahrenheit) cold outside.

The torch was then handed to a Sochi 2014 official and flown by helicopter – separately from the three space travelers – to the provincial capital Karaganda.

RECORD-BREAKING RELAY

The torch taken on the spacewalk will be used to light the flame at the Olympics in February in Sochi, a Russian resort city on the Black Sea. The torch was taken into space in 1996 and 2000 but had not previously been outside the space station.

In Karaganda, Yurchikhin, Nyberg and Parmitano were given traditional Kazakh robes and chocolates with their pictures on the boxes. Nyberg felt unwell and skipped a news conference.

“Space is a serious thing,” Yurchikhin said. “It affects different bodies and different people in different ways.”

Russia cast the spacewalk as part of its pre-Sochi torch relay, a record-breaking trek meant to show off the country’s size, diversity and post-Soviet achievements, but the 65,000 km (40,000 mile) relay continued separately on the ground.

Since Putin held a torch aloft in Red Square on October 6, bearers have taken the Olympic flame to the North Pole and will bring it to Europe’s highest peak, Mount Elbrus, in the longest torch relay before any Winter Games.

The torch was taken on Thursday to the space station, a $100 billion project of 15 nations, by Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, American Rick Mastracchio and Russian Mikhail Tyurin.

Torches have been brought on space missions before the 1996 and 2000 Games, but had never been taken out into space.

The returning crew also brought back a piece of a spacesuit worn by Parmitano that may have been responsible for a leak that caused his helmet to fill with water, forcing an emergency end to NASA’s last spacewalk on July 16.

The torch display was a success, but other tasks on the nearly six-hour spacewalk on Saturday did not go as well.

The cosmonauts were unable to fold up an antenna from an experiment involving predicting seismic events such as earthquakes, or to reposition a platform designed to anchor astronauts’ legs when they work outside the station.

Recent Headlines

in Music

Paul McCartney urges Scots to shun independence

Fresh
Sir Paul McCartney performs with his band during the "Out There" Tour at the Times Union Center on Saturday, July 5, 2014, in Albany, N.Y.

Paul McCartney has signed an open letter to Scottish voters urging them to choose 'No' in a crucial poll over plans for the nation to break away from the rest of the U.K.

in Sports

Indianapolis Colts owner pleads guilty to intoxicated driving

James Irsay, owner of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, is pictured in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters March 17, 2014.

Billionaire James Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts, was arrested in March after failing roadside field-sobriety tests.

in Sports

Phillies’ Cole Hamels, bullpen combine for no-hitter

Sep 1, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Cole Hamels (35) throws the ball against the Atlanta Braves in the second inning at Turner Field.

Cole Hamels set up a combined no-hitter for the Philadelphia Phillies as they beat the Atlanta Braves 7-0 at Turner Field in Atlanta.

in Weird

Delta flight diverted over reclining seat dispute

A Delta Air Lines jet takes off from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Va., Monday, July 28, 2014. In a victory for airlines and their workers' unions, the House rejected consumers' complaints and passed legislation letting airline advertising emphasize the base price of tickets, before taxes and fees are added.

An argument over leg room and reclining seats forced a Florida-bound flight from New York to divert to a different airport.

in Entertainment

Angelina Jolie debuts wedding dress featuring kids’ artwork

The cover of People magazine, dated 15th September, 2014, featuring the wedding of Angelina Jolie to Brad Pitt.

Angelina Jolie has debuted photos of her surprise nuptials to Brad Pitt, revealing she wore a designer wedding gown featuring artwork by their six children.