BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan - Two Russian cosmonauts will take the Olympic torch on its first space walk this week in a spectacular showcase for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.
For safety reasons, the torch will not be lit. That may be a relief for Russia as the flame has gone out many times since the torch relay began last month, a minor setback as President Vladimir Putin tries to use the Games to boost Russia's image.
Russian Mikhail Tyurin, American Rick Mastracchio and Japan's Koichi Wakata will have the torch with them on Thursday when they blast off for the International Space Station from the Baikonur cosmodrome, which Moscow rents from Kazakhstan.
Tyurin will hand the torch to fellow cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazansky, who are on the orbiting station, when they go on a space walk on Saturday.
The Olympic torch has been carried into space twice before, in 1996 and 2000, but it has never been taken outside a spacecraft.
"Our goal here is to make it look spectacular," Kotov told reporters before his own mission began. "We'd like to showcase our Olympic torch in space. We will try to do it in a beautiful manner. Millions of people will see it live on TV and they will see the station and see how we work."
The torch will be brought back to Earth by Russian Fyodor Yurchikhin, American astronaut Karen Nyberg and European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano on Nov. 11.
It then continues the 65,000-km (40,000-mile) relay which has taken the torch to the North Pole on an atomic-powered ice breaker and will take it to Europe's highest peak, Mount Elbrus, and the depths of Siberia's Lake Baikal.
As well as replacing the gas flame, Russian engineers have equipped the torch with a tether.
"It was reworked to take it into open space ... just so that it doesn't fly away," said Sergei Krikalev, head of the Cosmonauts' Training Centre outside Moscow.