NASA made history on Friday morning when astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir left the International Space Station to replace a defective battery charger.
The spacewalk for women, the first of its kind “in human history,” the agency said, began at 7:38 a.m. Eastern time when the two American astronauts put their suits into battery mode.
Koch was the first to leave the ISS with a red belt attached to her suit.
Meir soon followed her, carrying a tool bag as she left the hatch at 7:49 a.m. The spacewalk was originally scheduled for 5 and a half hours, but the crews successfully completed their main task and the mission was extended to more than seven hours so that astronauts could do some additional work.
The historic float out of the laboratory in orbit towards the vacuum of space came several months after another exclusively female spacewalk was canceled because NASA did not have enough spacesuits of the correct size. And it is announced as a great step forward for the agency at a time when NASA continues to work to highlight women’s contributions.
Referring to the famous appointment of the first moonwalker Neil Armstrong in 1969, the representative Katherine Clark, D-Mass., Tweeted: “A great leap for WOMANkind!”
The president of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, celebrated Koch and Meir “for leaving their mark on history” and called them “an inspiration for women and girls across the United States.”
At a press conference before the spacewalk, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said the agency would build on astronaut efforts and send the “next man and the first woman” to the moon by 2024, an effort that the agency has named “Artemis” after Apollo’s twin sister. Friday’s spacewalk is another milestone to make space more available to everyone, he said.
At the Space Operations Center at NASA headquarters, Bridenstine watched the beginning of the spacewalk on Friday with space station managers and some members of Congress and noted that 15 women have taken spacewalks.
“And 14 of them have been Americans,” he said. “So we are leading the way in this.”
Koch, who is scheduled to spend 328 days aboard the station, the longest a woman has ever had, has said she embraced the historical significance of the adventure she was about to embark on.
“In the past, women had not always been at the table,” he said in an interview with NPR from the space station. “It’s wonderful to be contributing to the human spaceflight program at a time when all contributions are accepted when everyone has a role and that can lead to a greater chance of success.”
Meir said the spacewalk “shows all the work was done during the previous decades: all the women who worked to take us where we are today. The good thing for us is that we don’t even think about it on a daily basis. It’s normal. We are part of the team … It’s really nice to see how far we have come. “
Ken Bowersox, interim associate administrator of Exploration and Human Operations at NASA, said in a teleconference on Friday that he expects two women who complete spacewalks to become routine one day. He noted that the physical characteristics of women have made it difficult in the past to make spacewalks due to the design of spacesuits. Spacesuits weigh only 280 pounds on the ground, but nothing in space, according to NASA.
“There are some physical reasons that sometimes make it difficult for women to do spacewalks,” he said. “It’s a bit like playing in the NBA. You know, I’m too short to play in the NBA. And sometimes physical characteristics make a difference in certain activities. And spacewalks are one of those areas where your body is the built-in shape. , it makes a difference in how well the suit can work. “
But as different types of people have entered space, NASA has adjusted its costumes, Bowersox said. Bridenstine quickly added that the agency is “really focused on making sure space suits are available to everyone.” And he said that because women seem to have better results in microgravity in some aspects, their vision does not suffer as much as that of men, it makes them “better on space flights than men.”
Former President Barack Obama’s senior advisor, Valerie Jarrett, tweeted that “the girls who grow up today will make this historic event perfectly normal.”
Both Koch and Meir were selected as part of NASA’s 2013 astronaut class, the first with an equal number of men and women. But women remain an overwhelming minority between the bases of NASA and the industry in general. According to a survey conducted by the agency, women represent approximately one-third of NASA’s workforce, 28 percent of its senior executive leadership and 16 percent of senior scientific employees.
Bridenstine said that attracting more women to the agency was a priority. “We are making significant progress in this area and have done so for several years,” he said. “But we are not done. There is much more to do.” He said events like Friday’s spacewalk are “what inspires tomorrow’s astronauts, and we want tomorrow’s astronauts to represent the whole of America.”
Spacewalks are among the most stressful jobs astronauts do in space. They are physically demanding and mentally challenging, astronauts have said, such as taking an exam while running a marathon.
Before becoming an astronaut, Koch, 40, was an electrical engineer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, where he worked on scientific instruments used in the study of cosmology and astrophysics. He later became a research associate in the US Antarctic Program. UU., Which included a one-year stay at the South Pole.
Meir, a scientist, has a doctorate in marine biology. He previously worked at Lockheed Martin supporting research in human physiology and participating in research flights for NASA on reduced-gravity aircraft, as well as in an underwater habitat. He has also studied the physiology of animals in extreme environments.
NASA expected to have a female spacewalk in March. But it was canceled after astronaut Anne McClain discovered that the spacesuit she was going to wear didn’t fit. Instead, astronaut Nick Hague went instead.
On Friday, there was no hiccup when the spacewalk began.
“This is the kind of real role model we can admire,” Sen. Tammy Duckworth tweeted, D-Ill.
“This is a remarkable moment that highlights the immense progress that women have made to become equal partners in humanity’s search for greater knowledge of space,” Senator Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., wrote on Twitter.
President Donald Trump congratulated Koch and Meir by teleconference this afternoon: “You represent this country very well. Our country is very proud of you,” he said with Vice President Mike Pence on his right and his daughter Ivanka on his left.
“First the moon and then we go to Mars,” he said.