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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

No Mop for Women in Space

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida -- A giant leap is about to be made for womankind.

When space shuttle Discovery blasts off Tuesday, a woman will be sitting in the commander's seat. And up at the international space station, a female skipper will be waiting to greet her.

It will be the first time in the 50-year history of spaceflight that two women are in charge of two spacecraft at the same time.

This is no public relations gimmick cooked up by NASA. It's coincidence, which pleases shuttle commander Pamela Melroy and station commander Peggy Whitson. "To me, that's one of the best parts about it," Melroy said. "This is not something that was planned or orchestrated in any way."

Whitson, the first woman to command the space station, arrived at the outpost Oct. 12. Before the launch, an official presented her with a traditional Kazakh whip to take with her. It's a symbol of power, Whitson explained, because of all the horseback and camel riding in Kazakhstan. She said she took the gift as a compliment and added, "I did think it was interesting, though, that they talked a lot about the fact that they don't typically let women have these."

At least it wasn't a mop. The whip stayed behind on Earth. Eleven years ago, just before Shannon Lucid rocketed to the Russian space station Mir, a Russian space official said during a live prime-time news conference that he was pleased she was going up because "we know that women love to clean."