An Olympic torch took a first-ever spacewalk Saturday, carefully held by two Russian cosmonauts outside the International Space Station as it orbited some 420 kilometres above Earth.
Video streamed by NASA showed Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazanskiy carrying the unlit torch of the Sochi games, which bobbed weightlessly at the end of a tether in a darkness dotted by stars.
The two gingerly maneuvered to take photos of the torch against the background of the planet, the orb's edge glowing with sunrise.
After two hours, they returned it to the space station before continuing with other tasks on a spacewalk that was to last about six hours, including attaching a footrest and a camera platform to the exterior of the orbiting laboratory.
The torch was launched into space from the Russian-operated Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Thursday morning. It will return to Earth with a three-man crew on Monday.
The torch will not burn aboard the space outpost because lighting it would consume precious oxygen and pose a threat to the crew.
The Olympic torch was taken aboard the U.S. space shuttle Atlantis in 1996 for the Atlanta Summer Olympics, but this is the first it time it has been taken outside a spacecraft.
The Sochi Olympic flame started its relay on Oct. 7, four months ahead of the Winter Games, and it is to cover some 65,000 kilometres. Most of the time the flame will be safely encased in a lantern.
On Saturday, the flame was somewhere nearly as cold and remote as the torch's temporary residence in outer space — the Siberian city of Yakutsk.
The 22nd Winter Games, held between Feb. 7th and 23rd, will mark the first Olympic Games to be held in the Russian Federation, following on from the 1980 Summer Olympics, which were held in Moscow during the era of the Soviet Union.