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Veteran astronauts take maiden spacewalk

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly on the verge of shattering new US flight record. Commander and flight engineer attend to maintenance outside of International Space Station.

Two American astronauts stepped out on their first-ever spacewalks Wednesday for upgrades and maintenance at the orbiting International Space Station, the US space agency NASA said.

Mission Commander Scott Kelly and Flight Engineer Kjell Lindgren floated out of the International Space Station attached to a tether in order to complete some vital maintenance while in the earth's orbit. Their to-do list included greasing the station's robotic arm, routing cables, removing insulation from an electronic switching unit and covering an antimatter and dark matter detector.

Kelly is on the verge of breaking the 215-day record for the longest mission in space. He is set to shatter that record in the early hours of Thursday as part of his mission to the space station expected to run through March 2016.

His identical twin brother - a retired astronaut - sent him congratulations via Twitter.

Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko is also part of the

one-year experiment in preparation for eventual Mars expeditions,

although it will fall shy of the 14-month world record held by a fellow cosmonaut, Valery Polyakov, who lived aboard the Russian Mir space station in the mid-1990s.

Routine maintenance at zero gravity

NASA spacewalk

Commander Scott Kelly tries on his spacesuit inside the US Quest airlock of the International Space Station. Kelly made his first spacewalk on October 28, 2015.

Wednesday's mission was delayed slightly after Lindgren inadvertently switched on the water flow in his suit too soon. Mission Control wanted to make certain the suit would be safe, before giving the all-clear to resume.

Water is needed to cool the suit; a malfunction two years ago almost caused a spacewalker to drown after his helmet flooded with water.

A second spacewalk - to further whittle down a backlog of station chores - will be conducted November 6 by the same two men, NASA said.

US President Barack Obama already has relayed congratulations to the record-breaking astronaut. In a phone call last week, Obama told Kelly his feat is "nothing to sneeze at."

Kelly says he assured the president that even though he feels like he's been in orbit a long time and still has a long way to go, "it shouldn't be a problem getting to the end with enough energy and enthusiasm to complete the job."

While it is a pioneering spacewalk for both Kelly and Lindgren, it was the 189th in support of the space station nearly 17-year-old space station.

jar/jil (AP, AFP)

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