Astronaut Jessica Meir made history Friday morning when she stepped out of the International Space Station as part of the first all-female spacewalk.

Meir and fellow astronaut Christina Koch became the first team of female astronauts to work in space outside the orbiting research station. Meir, who grew up in Caribou, has dreamed about going to space since she was 5 and wrote in her senior yearbook that her future plans included going on a spacewalk.

The spacewalk officially began at 6:38 a.m., 12 minutes ahead of schedule. By 11:30 a.m., the pair had replaced the battery charge-discharge unit and had begun testing the replacement part.

The two astronauts, also close friends, spent hours patiently removing and then replacing the battery system while tethered to the outside of the space station as it orbited 250 miles above Earth. The entire operation was streamed on the web, including the conversation between the astronauts, and views from their helmet cams showing the delicate work.

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Christina Koch and Jessica Meir exit the International Space Station on Friday. The world’s first all-female spacewalking team made history high above Earth. NASA via Associated Press

Five hours into the spacewalk, Koch and Meir paused their work to speak with President Trump in the White House. During the call, Meir gave credit to the women who came before her and said “the hard work certainly did pay off.”

“It’s a pretty incredible feeling, I’m sure you can all imagine, and is one I will never forget,” she said of her first spacewalk. “It’s really an honor to be out here working today.”

NASA had estimated the replacement project would take 5½ hours, but Koch and Meir finished installing the 230-pound unit in just over five hours, and mission officials extended the walk to allow the astronauts to do “get-ahead” work on the space station. Koch and Meir returned to the space station after seven hours, 17 minutes.

Meir is the 15th woman and 228th person to walk in space. It was the third spacewalk for Koch, who had already logged 20 hours and 31 minutes on spacewalks. NASA says spacewalks are among the most physically demanding tasks that astronauts undertake while in space.

“I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to go out the hatch,” Meir told the Press Herald in a September interview. “That’s when you really feel like an astronaut.”

When NASA started its live coverage, Meir and Koch already were in their spacesuits and beginning the safety checks and depressurization of the Quest airlock before the start of the spacewalk. Once those were complete, they switched their spacesuits to battery power, marking the beginning of the spacewalk, NASA said.

Koch, the lead spacewalker, had red stripes on her spacesuit. There are no stripes on Meir’s spacesuit.

“Jessica and Christina, we are so proud of you and will be waiting for you in a few hours when you get home,” astronaut Andrew Morgan told his fellow space station residents minutes before the walk began.

 

In an interview with NPR last week, Meir said the spacewalk “shows all the work that went in for the decades prior – all of the women who worked to get us to where we are today. The nice thing for us is we don’t even really think about it on a daily basis. It’s just normal. We’re part of the team. … It’s really nice to see how far we have come.”

The historic trip outside the orbiting laboratory into the vacuum of space came several months after another all-female spacewalk was canceled because NASA did not have enough spacesuits in the right size. And it’s being heralded as a huge step forward for the agency at a time when NASA continues to work to highlight the contributions of women.

Meir and Koch received praise for their landmark accomplishment from other accomplished women. Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., playing on the renowned quote by first moonwalker Neil Armstrong in 1969, tweeted: “One giant leap for WOMANkind!”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine also were among those who congratulated the spacewalkers.

Collins, who was inducted into the Caribou High School Hall of Fame with Meir, tweeted about Meir as the spacewalk was about to begin Friday morning.

“Congratulations, Jessica, on another remarkable accomplishment! We are all so proud. You continue to be an inspiration to students in our hometown of Caribou, across Maine, and throughout the country,” Collins wrote.

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