President Donald Trump lauded two NASA astronauts on the first all-female spacewalk in history Friday (Oct. 18), complimenting their bravery and skill as they worked outside the International Space Station.
Speaking from the White House, Trump hailed the work of astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir, who had by then spent more than four hours replacing a faulty battery component on their orbiting laboratory. Their spacewalk marked the first time two women have walked in space together.
“I just want to congratulate you, what you do is incredible,” Trump said in the call, which NASA broadcast live. “You’re very brave people. I don’t think I want to do it, I must tell you.”
“Congratulations, Christina and Jessica, on this historic event,” he added. “This is truly historic.”
Trump, flanked by his daughter Ivanka Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, twice referred to Friday’s spacewalk as the first by a woman, but in fact it is the first by an all-female spacewalking team. The first woman to walk in space was Russian cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya in 1984; NASA astronaut Kathryn Sullivan became the first female American spacewalker later that year.
Koch and Meir thanked Trump for his words, with Meir honoring those female space pioneers who paved the way for their spacewalk Friday. Meir, who made her first spacewalk Friday, became the 15th woman in history to walk in space.
“This is really just us doing our jobs,” Meir said, adding that she and Koch just happened to be the crew in orbit when the spacewalk was needed. “At the same time, we recognize that it is a historic achievement, and we do of course want to give credit to all those that came before us. There’s been a long line of female scientists, explorers, engineers and astronauts.
“We have followed in their footsteps to get us where we are today,” Meir said.
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Meir, a marine biologist from Caribou, Maine, launched to the space station in September and is making her first spaceflight with Koch, who launched earlier this year and is on a nearly yearlong flight of her own. The two are close friends, making today’s spacewalk that much more meaningful.
“I’m extremely fortunate to be sharing this moment with Christina Koch, who’s not only my colleague but also a very, very close and dear friend,” Meir said. “We both really are honored to be out here and working today as to be representing whatever it is that’s significant to whatever individual’s desires and hearts.”
Koch, a veteran of four spacewalks now, led Friday’s excursion. She and Meir are part of a six-person Expedition 61 crew living on the International Space Station right now. NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan, Italian astronaut (and station commander) Luca Parmitano and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Skripochka round out the crew.
NASA had tried to stage the first all-woman spacewalk earlier this year with Koch and another astronaut, Anne McClain, but called it off due to a lack of enough medium-size spacesuits ready on the station. The agency was publicly criticized for the oversight and made sure the current crew had the suit sizes they needed.
Trump said the all-female spacewalk was just one of many new records to come, with trips to the moon and Mars in the future. The Trump administration has tasked NASA with returning astronauts to the moon by 2024. NASA aims to do that with its Artemis program, which is designed to land the first woman and next man on the moon in five years.
“You’re very brave, brilliant women and you represent this country so well. And our country is very proud of you, and we are very proud of you,” Trump said, adding that millions of people were watching the spacewalkers work. “So first the moon, and then we go to Mars. Thank you both very much. Have a good time.”
.@NASA has captured the imaginations of the world for generations. Congratulations to @Astro_Christina & @Astro_Jessica for leaving their mark on history with today’s #AllWomanSpacewalk. You are an inspiration to women & girls across America. https://t.co/HQZIDUpBNZOctober 18, 2019
Trump wasn’t the only dignitary in Washington, D.C., to celebrate NASA’s all-woman spacewalk.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said it was an epic achievement.
“NASA has captured the imaginations of the world for generations,” Pelosi said via Twitter. “Congratulations to @Astro_Christina & @Astro_Jessica for leaving their mark on history with today’s #AllWomanSpacewalk. You are an inspiration to women & girls across America.”
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), a Democratic candidate for the 2020 presidential race, concurred.
“For the first time in our nation’s history, an all-female crew walked in space today,” Harris said on Twitter. “It’s more than historic — it’s a reminder that for women, even the sky doesn’t have to be the limit.”
For the first time in our nation’s history, an all-female crew walked in space today. It’s more than historic—it’s a reminder that for women, even the sky doesn’t have to be the limit. https://t.co/qmqypruQ7OOctober 18, 2019
Meir said she and Koch hoped their spacewalk would be an inspiration for all, not just for women.
“We hope that we can provide an inspiration to everybody, not only women, to everybody that has a big dream and is willing to work hard to make that dream come true,” Meir radioed to Trump.
Astronauts are no strangers to hard work, and it has been a joy to see it pay off in space, Meir said.
“I’ve only been up here a few weeks, actually about three weeks that I’ve been in space, and this is my first flight and my very first spacewalk,” Meir said. “So it is a pretty incredible feeling, I’m sure you can all imagine. And it’s one that I will never forget.”