Plans are progressing to have a torch for next year's Olympics make it into Earth orbit with a Japanese astronaut aboard the International Space Station, official sources said Friday.

Japan's Soichi Noguchi is expected to begin a mission aboard the space station at the end of this year, while compatriot Akihiko Hoshide is slated to travel to the station next May, and officials hope to enlist them in the project. Although the torch will be unlit for safety reasons, the Olympic space mission will seek to increase the games' publicity reach.

According to knowledgeable officials, the space station crew member will be "involved" in the torch relay on days when lit torches are not being carried by runners in the April to May time frame.

Officials are also looking into how the space station crew might be involved in the Paralympic torch relay. The final details are now being worked out for Noguchi and Hoshide to become official torch relay ambassadors.

The International Space Station also played a role in the relay for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, with two Russian cosmonauts carrying the torch on a spacewalk. That torch had arrived at the station on the same ship carrying Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata.