Moscow: Two cosmonauts took the Olympic torch unlit for a spacewalk today in a historic showcasing of Russia`s hosting of the Sochi Winter Olympic Games in three months` time. Cosmonaut Oleg Kotov ventured outside the International Space Station (ISS) with the torch held ceremonially in his gloved hand. The torch was tethered safely to his bulky spacesuit to make sure it did not spin away in orbit 420 kilo metres above the Earth.
The flashy moment was captured on high-tech video and photo equipment operated by fellow cosomonaut Sergei Ryazansky, who preceded Kotov out the airlock.
"Beautiful," Ryazansky exclaimed as Kotov proudly waved the torch in front of the camera while floating almost directly above Australia.
"It is hard to believe that this is happening," a commentator on Russian state television exclaimed as the first images of the spacewalk were beamed live across the nation.
"Something this beautiful has never happened before," the Russian commentator said. It was the very first time the Olympic symbol entered open space -- a no-expense-spared triumph for Russia as it showed off its prowess in science and sport.
Russia was promoting its first Olympic event since the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow were boycotted by a bloc of Western nations because of the Soviet Union`s invasion at the time of Afghanistan.
Moscow has already sent the feather-shaped red-and-grey torch symbolising universal peace and friendship to the North Pole aboard a nuclear-powered icebreaker. It will soon visit the bottom of Baikal -- the world`s deepest freshwater lake.
All are extravagant reminders from President Vladimir Putin`s government about the breadth of both Russia`s ambitions and its natural wealth.
But little compares to the pride Russia has taken in shooting the torch up to the ISS aboard the same type of rocket the Soviets used for launching pioneering spaceman Yuri Gagarin in 1961.
"Taking the Olympic torch to space -- only we are capable of that," a state television presenter boasted on Thursday during a news show about the upcoming February 7-23 Sochi Games.
The bold claim is not actually true. Torches also left the planet aboard US space shuttle voyages ahead of the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta and the 2000 event in Sydney. But never has a torch been taken out for a spacewalk until today.