The astronauts were just under five hours into their spacewalk to replace a battery charger on the International Space Station when they took the call from the White House.
“Congratulations Christina and Jessica on this historic event,” Trump said. “I just want to congratulate you both, you’re very brave, intelligent women and you represent this country so well. Our county is very proud of you, and we’re really proud of you.”
The president also set the historic spacewalk within the context of America’s ambitious plans for future space exploration. “This is a first step because we’re going to the moon and then we’re going to Mars.”
NASA’s Artemis program aims to land American astronauts, including the first woman, on the moon by 2024 and establish a sustainable human presence on Earth’s natural satellite.
“This is really just us doing our jobs,” one of the astronauts responded. “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 has been a long line of female scientists, explorers, engineers, and astronauts and we have followed in their footsteps to get us where we are today.”
Trump was flanked by Vice President Pence, who is chairman of the National Space Council, his daughter and White House adviser Ivanka Trump and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.
Earlier in the call, Trump mistakenly described the spacewalk “as the first time for a woman outside the space station.”
The astronauts clarified the nature of the historic spacewalk. “We don’t want to take too much credit, because there have been many other female spacewalkers before us, this is just the first time that there have been two women outside at the same time,” one said.
The spacewalk, which started early Friday, is Meir’s first and Koch’s fourth. When she ventured outside the orbiting space lab, Meir became the 228th person in the world to conduct a spacewalk and the 15th woman.
Initial mission capability for 2024 involves landing two astronauts on the moon’s south pole. Astronauts will live and work out of the lander for six and half days, according to NASA.
The Associated Press contributed to this article. Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers