WASHINGTON: US astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir made history on Friday (Oct 18) when they stepped outside the International Space Station (ISS) on the first all-female spacewalk.
The much-anticipated milestone for NASA was achieved during a relatively routine mission to swap faulty batteries on the station's exterior.
Koch and Meir, clad in white spacesuits and tethered by cords to the station some 254 miles (408km) above Earth, stepped into outer space at 7.38am Eastern time (1138 GMT) to replace a faulty power unit designed to help condition energy stored from the station's solar panels, NASA announced online as it showed live video of the action.
The mission, expected to last nearly five hours, follows a first attempt at an all-female spacewalk in March. It was called off because one of the astronaut's medium-sized spacesuits was not configured and ready for the journey.
US President Donald Trump congratulated the two women in a video call midday on Friday, thanking them for their bravery and service.
"This is truly historic," he told the astronauts from a conference room at the White House alongside Vice President Mike Pence, his daughter and presidential adviser Ivanka Trump, and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.
Meir said she and Koch could not take too much credit for the achievement, noting "a long line" of other women who paved the way before them.
"There have been many other female spacewalkers before us. This is just the first time that there's been two women outside at the same time," she said. "For us this is really just us doing our jobs."
"This is a first step," Trump told the pair, noting that NASA was planning to send a woman to the moon as part of a 2022 mission to build a habitat there.
Astronauts on the space station, which became operational in 2000, have tallied 221 maintenance spacewalks, 43 of which included women astronauts, according to NASA.
Friday's spacewalk, formally called extravehicular activities, is in line with the US space agency's aim to ramp up inclusivity in space.
Koch is scheduled set to complete the longest single space flight by a woman by remaining in orbit aboard the station until February 2020. She said gender milestones such as the spacewalk are significant.
"There are a lot of people who derive motivation from inspiring stories from people who look like them, and I think that it's an important aspect of the story to tell," she said at a NASA briefing in Houston this month.
Sandra Magnus, a former NASA astronaut who spent 136 days on the International Space Station, told Reuters she did not want events like Friday's spacewalk to become gimmicks.
"We want them to happen because people have the skill sets and they're available to do the job," said Magnus.
"On the other hand, it's important for young women to see women role models doing extraordinary things," she said. "So there's two sides of the coin. You want it to be normal but yet you want it to be special."