Pope speaks with astronauts in orbit for first time

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Astronauts receive a call from the Pope
Image: NASA.
The International Space Station
Image: NASA.

Pope Benedict XVI spoke with astronauts aboard the International Space Station yesterday, marking the first time a pope has conversed with astronauts in orbit.

Organized by the European Space Agency (ESA), the call originated from the Vatican Library at 7:11 am Eastern time. German ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter, president of the Italian Space Agency Enrico Saggese, and General Giuseppe Bernardis of the Italian Air Force were also in the room at the Vatican. Aboard the spacecraft were Italian, U.S., and Russian crew members of the Endeavour STS-134 mission and Expedition 27.

Endeavour commander and U.S. astronaut Mark Kelly greeted His Holiness aboard the spacecraft. The Pope wished Kelly's wife, Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, well as she recovers from an assassination attempt that took place in January. Doctors inserted a hard plastic implant, or a bone flap, into Giffords's skull last Wednesday. The Pope also asked of the astronauts' impressions of the planet from space.

"We fly over most of the world and we don't see borders, but at the same time we realize that people fight with each other and there is a lot of violence in this world," Kelly said. The Pope sent his condolences to Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli, whose mother died earlier this month while he was in space.