First outing of two women, congratulated by Trump

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(Washington) US astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir flew out Friday of the International Space Station (ISS) to replace electrical equipment, marking the first time in six decades of space history that two women are leading such an outing.

Ivan Crown
France Media Agency

A 100% female release was scheduled for March, but NASA had to cancel it because they did not have two ready-made combinations of the right size, an embarrassing episode for the agency.

Friday's outing was uneventful since 7:38 am and was punctuated by a congratulatory call from President Donald Trump as the two women floated in a vacuum, 415 kilometers above the Indian Ocean, at the usual speed 8 kilometers per second.

"You are very brave, very intelligent women," Donald Trump told them from the White House. "We are very proud of you".

"We do not want to give too much credit, because many women have gone out into space before us," said Jessica Meir, a 42-year-old marine biologist recruited in 2013 by NASA. "There is a long line of women scientists, explorers, engineers and astronauts. We walked in their footsteps.

Once the call ended, the two women, unperturbed, resumed their very technical procedures.

"What a view"

The operation was relatively ordinary: replace a battery charging system of one hundred kilograms (without weight in weightlessness) installed in 2000 at one end of the station near huge solar panels, and which broke down on weekends -end last.

But on 220 space sorties since the beginning of the ISS in 1998, none had been made by two women at the same time. Jessica Meir is only the fifteenth woman in history to "walk" in the void.

The men of the current crew (an American, two Russians and an Italian) stayed inside.

Astronauts often say that a spacewalk is the most memorable experience of their adventure. The Earth scrolls under their eyes at the rate of a turn every 90 minutes. Sixteen times, the sun rises and sets.

"I have to ask, but what are we flying over right now?" Christina Koch, a 40-year-old engineer, asked at one point in the control room in Houston.

"What a view," said one of the astronauts as they flew over our planet, resplendent under the sun.

"If there was one word to describe the opposite of claustrophobia, that would be the feeling. It's the most infinite emptiness you can feel, "said Anne McClain, who recently returned from the ISS. "And we realize that the Earth is the closest thing we can look at."

"No limits"

At NASA, the first astronauts were military pilots, men. The first woman in space was the Russian Valentina Terechkova in 1963, the first American Sally Ride in 1983.

Space equipment has historically been designed and tested for men, considered more suitable because stronger physically and larger, which would facilitate the manipulation of tools and acrobatics necessary to repair equipment in weightlessness.

"But we have also added women to the crews, because their brains bring different skills," Ken Bowersox, chief of NASA manned flight programs, said Friday. "By using their brains, they can overcome many physical challenges."

The blunder of March had provoked a volley of critics, Hillary Clinton tweeting a lapidary "Make another combination".

This time, the politicians celebrated the event. "It's more than historical, it shows that for women, there are no limits, not even the sky," tweeted Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris.

"We want the space to be accessible to everyone, and this day marks a new stage in this evolution," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

To study the effect of prolonged weightlessness on women's bodies, Christina Koch will spend almost a year aboard the ISS until February.

The latest NASA astronaut promotion, selected in 2013, is half female. In total, the agency has 12 active female astronauts.



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