Olympic Torch and New Space Station Crew Launching Tonight: Watch It Live

Olympic Rings at Soyuz Launch Pad
Olympic rings are seen at the Soyuz launch pad shortly after the Soyuz TMA-11M rocket was erected into position on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013, at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. (Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

A Russian rocket is counting down to launch toward the International Space Station tonight (Nov. 6) with some unusual cargo: an Olympic torch for the 2014 Winter Games and three space travelers representing Russia, the U.S. and Japan.

NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio, Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata will blast off toward the orbiting lab aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft at 11:14 p.m. EST (0414 Nov. 7 GMT) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. You can watch the Soyuz launch live here on SPACE.com starting at 10:15 p.m. EST (0315 GMT).

Expedition 38 Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, left, Soyuz Commander Mikhail Tyurin of Roscosmos, and Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio of NASA, right, smile and wave as they hold an Olympic torch that will be flown with them to the International Space Station, during a press conference held Wed., Nov. 6, at the Cosmonaut hotel in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. (Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Riding with the spaceflyers is an aluminum and red Olympic torch for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. The torch won't be lit on the Soyuz or space station, but it will be carried outside the orbiting lab into the vacuum of space on Saturday (Nov. 9) during a spacewalk by Russian cosmonauts, Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy. [Photos: New Space Station Crew Prepares for Launch]

The space station crew is not the first set of spaceflyers to carry the Olympic torch on its journey to Sochi. Legendary cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman to launch into space, relayed the flame last month.

On Sunday (Nov. 10), the torch will return to Earth on another Soyuz that's bringing back three members of the station's Expedition 37 crew: NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg, the European Space Agency's Luca Parmitano and Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin. The trio arrived at the space station in May and are wrapping up a 5 1/2-month mission. 

Wakata, who launches tonight, is slated to become the first Japanese astronaut to command the space station. He will also be taking part in a novel experiment to test how robots fare as companions for spaceflyers. The pint-size Kirobo talking robot, who only speaks Japanese, is already on board the orbiting lab, waiting for Wakata to be its conversation pal.

Follow Megan Gannon on Twitter and Google+. Follow us @SPACEdotcom, Facebook or Google+. Originally published on SPACE.com.

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: community@space.com.

Megan Gannon
Space.com Contributing Writer

Megan has been writing for Live Science and Space.com since 2012. Her interests range from archaeology to space exploration, and she has a bachelor's degree in English and art history from New York University. Megan spent two years as a reporter on the national desk at NewsCore. She has watched dinosaur auctions, witnessed rocket launches, licked ancient pottery sherds in Cyprus and flown in zero gravity on a Zero Gravity Corp. to follow students sparking weightless fires for science. Follow her on Twitter for her latest project.