Russian rocket takes Sochi Olympic torch to space

BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan, Nov 7 (Reuters) - Russia sent the Olympic torch into space with a three-man crew that blasted off to the International Space Station on Thursday, three months before the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. The torch, unlit for safety reasons, was part of the payload of a Soyuz spacecraft that lifted off from the Russian-leased Baikonur launch facility in Kazakhstan. Crew members Mikhail Tyurin of Russia, Rick Mastracchio of the United States and Koichi Wakata of Japan are to arrive after a six-hour flight at the orbiting outpost 250 miles (450 km) above Earth. Two Russian cosmonauts are to take the torch out on a space walk on Saturday - the first time an Olympic torch is to be carried into open space. Olympic torches were brought along on U.S. space shuttle voyages before the 1996 and 2000 Games. Decorated with a Sochi 2014 logo and a colourful snowflake design, the rocket lifted off on schedule at 10:14 local time (0414 GMT) from the Russian-leased facility in Kazakhstan. The torch is to be returned to Earth on Monday to continue a 65,000-km (40,000-mile) relay culminating with the start of the Olympics in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi on Feb. 7. (Reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Steve Gutterman)