U.S. astronauts embark on the first all-female spacewalk

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(Reuters) – Two NASA astronauts made space history on Friday, completing the first spacewalk for an all-female team when they stepped off the International Space Station.

Christina Koch and Jessica Meir reached the long-awaited NASA milestone during a relatively routine mission to replace defective batteries outside the station.

"Mission accomplished!" Tweeted NASA chief Jim Bridenstine on Friday. "Today's historical achievements pave the way for our #Artemis program, which will send the first woman to the moon in 2024."

"Ad Astra!" He added, Latin for "to the stars."

NASA plans to return to the moon with manned missions until 2024 under the program called Artemis, which in Greek mythology was the twin sister of Apollo, the name of the original moon program.

Koch and Meir, dressed in white space suits and wired to the station about 408 km above Earth, entered space at 7:38 am Eastern Time (1138 GMT) to replace a malfunctioning engineered power unit. To help condition energy stored in the station's solar panels, NASA announced online by showing the live action video.

A first attempt at a women's spacewalk in March was canceled because one of the astronauts' mid-size space suits was not set up and ready for the journey.

US astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir leave the International Space Station (ISS) to attempt the first female spacewalk in this static image taken from NASA's October 18, 2019 video. NASA TV / REUTERS

US President Donald Trump spoke with Koch and Meir by telephone from the White House during the final leg of the spacewalk. “Station, this is President Donald Trump. Do you hear me?"

The president, flanked by his daughter Ivanka Trump and vice president Mike Pence, said the astronauts are "brave and brilliant women" and mistakenly praised the two as the first women to leave the space station, calling for a gentle correction from Meir.

"We don't want to have much credit because there have been many other women walking in space before us. It's just the first time two women have been outside at the same time," said Meir, the 15th woman leading a walk in the space. space.

Space station astronauts, which went into operation in 2000, recorded 221 spacewalks, 43 of which included female astronauts, according to NASA.

Friday's spacewalk, formally called extravehicular activities, is in line with the US space agency's goal of increasing space inclusion.

Koch is scheduled to complete a woman's longest spaceflight, remaining in orbit aboard the station until February 2020. She said gender milestones, such as spacewalking, are significant.

"A lot of people derive motivation from inspiring stories from people who look like them, and I think it's an important aspect of the story to tell," she said in an interview with NASA in Houston this month.

U.S. astronauts embark on the first all-female spacewalkSlideshow (7 Images)

Sandra Magnus, a former NASA astronaut who spent 136 days at the International Space Station, told Reuters she did not want events like Friday's spacewalk to become tricks.

"We want them to happen because people have the skill sets and are available to do the job," said Magnus.

"On the other hand, it's important for young women to see models of women doing extraordinary things," she said. "So there are two sides of the coin. You want it to be normal, but you still want it to be special."

Joey Roulette reporting; Additional reporting by Steve Holland in Washington; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Daniel Wallis

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