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Olympic Fever Hits Space Station Astronauts

Astronauts on 2016 Olympics screenshot
NASA astronauts Jeff Williams and Kate Williams, currently on board the International Space Station as part of Expedition 48, spoke in a video message about the 2016 Olympic Games, which start in Rio de Janeiro today (Aug. 5). (Image credit: NASA TV)

Astronauts on the International Space Station will be cheering on their home nations as countries compete in the 2016 Olympic Games  in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which start today (Aug. 5).

Members of the Expedition 48 crew represent three nations: the United States, Japan and Russia. In a recorded message on the Team USA Twitter feed, NASA astronaut Kate Rubins drew links between the international collaborations in space and those in sport.

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"All of us will certainly be rooting for our home nations in competition, but we'll celebrate the spirit of the games together," she said.

Rubins was joined by Expedition 48 commander Jeff Williams, who said the crew was eagerly counting down to the start of the games, which run until Aug. 21. 

"We know you're prepared both physically and mentally for the games, and that being at your best in Rio will require maximum focus and effort," he said. "So we just wanted to let you know we're proud of you and inspired by you, and that fans of Team USA everywhere — even way up here — will be cheering for you."

Japanese astronaut Takuya Onishi also recorded a message for his home nation, in Japanese, wearing an Olympic shirt. The video is available on the YouTube channel for the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

While Russia did not have a message up on YouTube as of this morning (Aug. 5), Russian cosmonauts have also expressed much support for the games over the years.

Before the last Olympics in Sochi, Russia, two Russian cosmonauts performed a spacewalk with the unlit Olympic torch in 2013. This torch was the third one to fly to space, but the first to be taken on a spacewalk.

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Elizabeth Howell
Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.