US astronauts make history with all-women spacewalk

US astronauts create history with all-woman spacewalk
U.S. astronaut Jessica Meir walks outside the International Space Station (ISS), in this still image taken from NASA video. Photo: NASA TV/REUTERS
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Washington: US astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir became the first all-female pairing to carry out a spacewalk Friday, following a spacesuit flub earlier this year that caused the historic mission to be aborted.

"Christina, you may egress the airlock," spacecraft communicator Stephanie Wilson told the pair shortly after they set out to replace a power controller on the International Space Station at 1138 GMT.

They began their mission making standard safety checks on their suits and tethers, before making their way to the repair site.

In a call to reporters a few minutes earlier, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine emphasised its symbolic importance.

"We want to make sure that space is available to all people, and this is another milestone in that evolution.

"I have an 11 year old daughter, I want her to see herself as having all the same opportunities that I found myself as having when I was growing up."

The first such mission was supposed to take place in March but was cancelled because the space agency had only one medium-sized suit, with a male-female combination performing the required task at a later date.

U.S. astronaut Jessica Meir walks outside the International Space Station (ISS), in this still image taken from NASA video, October 18, 2019. NASA TV/REUTERS
The International Space Station (ISS) crew member Christina Koch of the US gestures after donning space suits shortly before their launch at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, in March. Photo: REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

Traditionally male-dominated NASA's failure to be adequately prepared was denounced in some quarters as evidence of implicit sexism.

Koch, an electrical engineer, was leading Meir, who holds a doctorate in marine biology and is making her first ever spacewalk.

The two were working to replace a faulty battery charge/discharge unit, known as a BCDU.

US astronauts create history with all-woman spacewalk
Crew member Jessica Meir of the US waves behind a glass wall during a final news conference ahead of the mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, on September 24, 2019. Photo: REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

The station relies on solar power but is out of direct sunlight for much of its orbit and therefore needs batteries, and the BCDUs regulate the amount of charge that goes into them.

The current task was announced Monday and is part of a wider mission of replacing aging nickel-hydrogen batteries with higher capacity lithium-ion units.

The US sent its first female astronaut into space in 1983, when Sally Ride took part in the seventh Space Shuttle mission, and has now had more women astronauts than any other country.

But the first woman in space was Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova in 1963, followed by compatriot Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982, who was also the first woman spacewalker two years later.

The spacewalk comes as NASA plans to return to the Moon by 2024 under the Artemis mission, named for the twin sister of Apollo in Greek mythology.

The mission will see the first woman to set foot on the lunar surface, possibly as part of an all-women team. 

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