Olympic torch launches into space (video, photos)

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We have liftoff.

An Olympic torch blasted into space aboard a Russian rocket in a special part of the Sochi torch relay from Kazakhstan at 11:14 ET on Wednesday night.

NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio, Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata took the torch aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket with Sochi 2014 designs.

An Olympic torch has gone into space at least once before. A ceremonial torch went on the space shuttle Atlantis to the International Space Station before the 2000 Olympics, but this will be the first time it will go into open space on a spacewalk, scheduled for Saturday.

Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy will take the torch as part of a six-hour spacewalk beginning at 9:30 a.m. ET, according to Space.com. It will be tethered to make sure it doesn’t fly away.

The torch will not be lit on the expedition for safety reasons. Photos and video are expected to be made available after the spacewalk.

“We’d like to showcase our Olympic torch in space,” Kotov said, according to Engineering & Technology magazine. “We will try to do it in a beautiful manner. Millions of people will see it live on TV, and they will see the station and how we work.”

UPDATE: The torch reached the International Space Station on Thursday morning.

The torch is expected to return to Earth at 9:50 p.m. ET on Sunday, landing in Kazakhstan.

The crew that will stay at the International Space Station for six months will be able to watch the Olympics (on a delay), according to Interfax.

One of the three Sochi Olympic mascots — a polar bear — was also aboard the rocket:

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Screencap via Space.com

Here are photos from before the launch:

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Journalist says torch flame has gone out at least 44 times

Serena Williams eyes Australian Open return after pregnancy

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Serena Williams hopes to return from pregnancy (due date by the end of the summer) to defend her Australian Open title in January, according to Vogue.

“It’s the most outrageous plan,” Williams said, according to the report. “I just want to put that out there. That’s, like, three months after I give birth. I’m not walking anything back, but I’m just saying it’s pretty intense.”

Williams, a four-time Olympic gold medalist, won her 23rd Grand Slam singles title last January and, two months later, said she played that event while about two months pregnant.

Williams, 35, is already the oldest Grand Slam women’s singles champion in the Open Era. That’s by virtue not of her 2017 Australian Open title but of her 2016 Wimbledon crown.

She hopes to pass Margaret Court‘s record of 24 Grand Slaim singles titles, though Court won the majority of her events before the Open Era began in 1968.

“In this game you can go dark fast,” Williams said, according to the report. “If I lose, and I lose again, it’s like, she’s done. Especially since I’m not 20 years old. I’ll tell you this much: I won’t win less. Either I win, or I don’t play.”

As for another Olympics?

“I can’t promise that … Tokyo 2020 is a lot,” Williams said on Japanese TV on Jan. 28 after winning the Australian Open, while knowing she was already, secretly, two months pregnant.

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MORE: Past two men’s champions out of U.S. Open

Vuelta a España TV, live stream schedule

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Less than a month after winning his fourth Tour de France, Chris Froome returns to headline the Vuelta a España, the final Grand Tour of the season, with daily live coverage on NBC Sports Gold’s Cycling Pass and the Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA.

Olympic Channel coverage will be live streamed on OlympicChannel.com, the Olympic Channel app, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

NBCSN will also air encore broadcasts of select stages.

NBC Sports Gold coverage will be commercial-free.

Froome, eyeing his first Tour of Spain win after a trio of runners-up, is joined by Spaniard Alberto Contador, who has won every Grand Tour multiple times and is set to retire after this event.

Rounding out the marquee men is 2014 Tour de France champion Vincenzo Nibali, who also captured the Vuelta back in 2010.

Romain Bardet and Fabio Aru, who challenged Froome at the Tour de France last month, are also in the Vuelta field.

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MORE: Olympic champion, Tour de France runner up fails drug test

Day Time (ET) Network Stage
Saturday, Aug. 19 11:25 a.m.-1:30 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 1
Saturday, Aug. 19 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 1
Sunday, Aug. 20 9 a.m.-12 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 2
Sunday, Aug. 20 12-2 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 2
Monday, Aug. 21 7:10 a.m.-12 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 3
Monday, Aug. 21 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 3
Monday, Aug. 21 12 p.m. NBCSN Stage 3
Tuesday, Aug. 22 9 a.m.-12 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 4
Tuesday, Aug. 22 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 4
Wednesday, Aug. 23 9 a.m.-12 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 5
Wednesday, Aug. 23 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 5
Thursday, Aug. 24 9 a.m.-12 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 6
Thursday, Aug. 24 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 6
Friday, Aug. 25 9 a.m.-12 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 7
Friday, Aug. 25 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 7
Friday, Aug. 25 5 p.m. NBCSN Stage 7
Saturday, Aug. 26 9 a.m.-12 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 8
Saturday, Aug. 26 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 8
Sunday, Aug. 27 9 a.m.-12 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 9
Sunday, Aug. 27 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 9
Tuesday, Aug. 29 9 a.m.-12 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 10
Tuesday, Aug. 29 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 10
Tuesday, Aug. 29 6:30 p.m. NBCSN Stage 10
Wednesday, Aug. 30 9 a.m.-12 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 11
Wednesday, Aug. 30 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 11
Thursday, Aug. 31 9 a.m.-12 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 12
Thursday, Aug. 31 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 12
Thursday, Aug. 31 1 p.m. NBCSN Stage 12
Friday, Sept. 1 9 a.m.-12 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 13
Friday, Sept. 1 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 13
Saturday, Sept. 2 9 a.m.-12 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 14
Saturday, Sept. 2 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 14
Sunday, Sept. 3 7:45 a.m.-12 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 15
Sunday, Sept. 3 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 15
Tuesday, Sept. 5 9 a.m.-12 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 16
Tuesday, Sept. 5 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 16
Tuesday, Sept. 5 9 p.m. NBCSN Stage 16
Wednesday, Sept. 6 6:25 a.m.-12 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 17
Wednesday, Sept. 6 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 17
Thursday, Sept. 7 9 a.m.-12 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 18
Thursday, Sept. 7 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 18
Friday, Sept. 8 9 a.m.-12 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 19
Friday, Sept. 8 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 19
Saturday, Sept. 9 8:15 a.m.-12 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 20
Saturday, Sept. 9 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 20
Sunday, Sept. 10 10:55 a.m.-3 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 21
Sunday, Sept. 10 1-3 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 21
Sunday, Sept. 10 7 p.m. NBCSN Stage 21