The 2014 Winter Olympics are about to begin in Sochi, Russia, and astronauts will be watching the games from their vantage point high above Earth on the International Space Station.
The space station currently plays host to a crew of six international astronauts and cosmonauts, a unique viewing party for one of the biggest worldwide events of the year. NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio expects that there will be some friendly international competition during the games, especially if the Russians and Americans compete against each other. You can watch the full space sports interview on Space.com, with Mastracchio also touching on the recent Super Bowl XLVIII.
"We've got the Japanese astronaut [Kiochi Wakata], we've got three Russian astronauts [Oleg Kotov, Sergey Ryazanskiy and Mikhail Tyurin] and then you have Mike [Hopkins] and I from the United States," Mastracchio told Space.com. "I think there will be some friendly competition especially if the Russian and U.S. hockey teams meet head to head. That would be interesting." [Photos: 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and Space Travel]
Wagering on a win
While there may not be any traditional betting pools on the station, astronauts and cosmonauts could wager their space food as a way to make the stakes a little higher while tracking the Olympics, Mastracchio said. It's also nice to take a break from the usual food provided on the station in favor of something a little more interesting, he added.
"When you're up here for such a long time, even though we do have a variety of food, it starts to get a little bit old, so anytime you can get something a little bit different, it's definitely a treat," Mastracchio said. "So, I'm sure the Russians have a lot of good food and there are a lot of things that we have that they enjoy also."
Mastracchio and his fellow spaceflyers will likely opt to watch the Sochi Olympics instead of launching their own ad-hoc winter games in orbit.
"We don't have much snow up here," Mastracchio said. "The kind of thing we do up here is more like gymnastics when we're floating around and spinning around, you feel like a gymnast or how a gymnast must feel when they're doing those incredible feats."
Olympic torch in space
Astronauts and cosmonauts on the space station have a special connection to the Olympics this year. The Olympic torch visited the space station late last year. Cosmonauts Kotov and Ryazanskiy took the torch on a spacewalk outside of the orbiting outpost before it flew back down to Earth with another crew.
"I think the key phrase is 'international co-operation,'" Mastracchio said. "Both the Olympics and the International Space Station are great examples of what folks can do when they get together — when all these different countries get together — and try to accomplish something."
"The Olympics are an incredible event," Mastracchio added. "All these different nations from around the world get together to participate in athletic events. Look at the International Space Station. Again, you've got many countries from around the world building hardware and then we assembled it in orbit and it had to fit together perfectly. International co-operation is the key to being successful in anything."
Mastracchio and Hopkins will be able to ask Mission Control to beam up some of their favorite sports on a time delay, and they might even be able to watch some of the sporting events live during downtime on the weekends, Mastracchio said.
"I like a lot of the events in the Winter Olympics," Mastracchio said. "The speed skating, and some of the different skiing events are pretty interesting to me. Anything where there's a lot of speed seems a little more interesting."
The Olympics kick off with the opening ceremony from Sochi on Friday (Feb. 7).