Italian Samantha Cristoforetti became the first European astronaut to spacewalk outside the International Space Station on Thursday, NASA footage showed.
Cristoforetti was joined by Russian cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev on the spacewalk, which began just before 1500 GMT, with the pair expected to spend about six and a half hours more than 400 kilometers (248 miles) above Earth.
Her duties include working on a European-made robotic arm, which just a week ago became embroiled in tensions between Russia and the West over Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
Earlier last week, the head of Russia’s space agency Roskosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, enraged by the European Space Agency’s decision to cut ties with Moscow on a Mars rover mission, urged cosmonauts on the ISS to stop using Europe’s robotic arm.
But President Vladimir Putin fired Rogozin as Roscosmos chief on Friday, and hours later Washington and Moscow said they would renew joint flights to the ISS.
On Thursday, the astronauts continue work on building the robotic arm, which was installed a few months ago after being launched into orbit in July 2021 after numerous delays.
The 11-meter-long compass-like robot is one of three such robots on the ISS, but it’s the only one that can reach the Russian segment of the station.
Once fully set up, the arm will serve numerous roles primarily in the Russian segment, and can be controlled from inside or outside the space station, or even from Earth.
Thursday was the third spacewalk that included work on the arm.
The two will also work on the Russian laboratory module Nauka.
It was Artemyev’s sixth spacewalk, but his first not alongside another Russian.
Cristoforetti, a 45-year-old European Space Agency astronaut and former Italian Air Force pilot, arrived on the ISS in April for her second tour.
She holds the record for the longest stay in space by a woman, having spent 199 days in orbit in 2014 and 2015.
The ISS space station has long been a symbol of closer post-Cold War relations between Russia and the United States.
Now it remains one of the last areas of cooperation between Russia and the West, which imposed sanctions on Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
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