Russia has sent the Olympic torch into space with a three-man crew ahead of the Winter Games in Sochi.

The torch, which was not lit for safety reasons, was on a Soyuz spacecraft that lifted off from the Russian-leased Baikonur launch facility in Kazakhstan.

Russian Mikhail Tyurin, American Rick Mastracchio and Japan's Koichi Wakata will deliver the torch to the International Space Station.

Two Russian cosmonauts will take the torch out on a space walk on Saturday. It will be the first time an Olympic torch will be carried into open space.

Olympic torches were brought along on US space shuttle voyages before the 1996 and 2000 games.

The torch will be returned to Earth on Monday to continue a 64,000km (40,000-mile) relay culminating with the start of the Olympics in the Black Sea resort city on 7 February.