Russia's space program shuffled its Soyuz launch schedule so that the Olympic Torch could make its way to the International Space Station this week for a photo op. The launch, which went off smoothly just before 11:15 p.m. eastern time on Wednesday, includes a brightly-colored, Olympic-themed rocket. Oh yeah, and three extra crew members, temporarily bringing the ISS's population to 9 people, up from its usual six. NASA streamed the launch of Russia's Soyuz TMA-11M from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, with updates on its journey. You can watch that below.
The three new crew members are NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata and Soyuz Commander Mikhail Tyurin of Roscosmos. They'll dock at the ISS at around 5:30 in the morning, eastern time, assuming all goes according to plan. Then, the Olympics promotion begins: two Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy will do a six-hour spacewalk with the torch. According to NBC, the pair will hand the torch back and forth and pose for pictures during the walk, before a trio of ISS crew members completing a long-term stay on the space station bring the torch back to Earth on Sunday. For safety and oxygen-conserving reasons, the torch will remain unlit during its journey. Earthlings will "tend" to the flame on solid ground.
Earlier this week, Astronaut Kochi Wakata tweeted a photo of the spacecraft's art:
Beautiful painting on the Soyuz rocket’s 1st stage that will lift us up on Nov 7. pic.twitter.com/IrErzlEVSk— Koichi Wakata (@Astro_Wakata) November 3, 2013
NASA Astronaut Rick Mastracchio is also on Twitter, by the way. He's promised to tweet from his mission aboard the ISS. The three crew members joining the ISS tonight will stay on board for a six-month mission.
NASA's coverage began at 10:15 EST. A stream is available here: