May 22, 2011

Pope Benedict Makes Phone Call To Space

Space shuttle Endeavour and International Space Station crews gathered together on Saturday for an unprecedented call from Pope Benedict.

"I think it must be obvious to you how we all live together on one Earth and how absurd it is that we fight and kill each one," the pope said.

"When you are contemplating the Earth from up there, do you ever wonder about the way nations and people live together down here, about how science can contribute to the cause of peace?" he asked," he continued, via a televised link from the Vatican.
He also wished his best recovery for commander Mark Kelly's wife, U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords.  She was shot in the head on January 8 during an assassination attempt that killed six and injured 12 others.

"Thank you for mentioning my wife, Gabby," Kelly said in response to the pope. "We fly over most of the world and you don't see borders, but at the same time we realize that people fight with each other and there's a lot of violence in this world and it's really an unfortunate thing."

The pope continued on to talk to space station flight engineer Paolo Nespoli, whose mother died on May 2.

"How have you been living through this time of pain on the International Space Station? Do you feel isolated and alone, or do you feel united amongst ourselves in a community that follows you with attention and affection?" the pope asked, speaking in Nespoli's native Italian.

"Holy Father, I felt your prayers and everyone's prayers arriving up here," Nespoli replied, also in Italian.

"My colleagues aboard the space station were very close to me at this important time, for me a very intense moment," Nespoli said. "I felt very far, but also very close."

Astronaut Roberto Vittori demonstrated microgravity by flipping a coin given to him by the pope, a symbol of the Vatican's involvement in the mission.

The coin will be returned to the pope after Endeavour lands, which is scheduled for June 1.

"To live aboard the International Space Station, to work as an astronaut is extremely intense, but we all have an opportunity when the nights come to look out and, more, to look down at Earth. Our planet, the blue planet, is beautiful," Vittori said.

"I do pray," he added. "I do pray for me, for our families, for our future."

The pope asked the astronauts about the environmental health of the planet as well.

"On the one hand, we can see how indescribably beautiful the planet that we have been given is, but on the other hand we can really clearly see how fragile it is," said NASA astronaut Ron Garan, a member of the live-aboard station crew.

"For instance, the atmosphere, when viewed from space, is paper-thin. And to think that this paper-thin layer is all that separates every living thing from the vacuum of space and is all that protects us is really a sobering thought," Garan said.

The Endeavour astronauts spent an hour surveying a 3.3-inch long section of the shuttle's heat shield damaged by a debris impact during the launch before the pope's call.

The crew used the shuttle's robot arm to sweep a sensor-laden boom over the damaged tile.  NASA does not believe the damage to be a concern for re-entry.

Heat shield damage caused the 2003 Columbia accident, which killed seven astronauts.


Image 1: His Holiness Benedict XVI talking with the astronauts on 21 May 2011 from the Foconi Room of the Vatican Library.

Image 2: ISS crew makes inflight call to Pope Benedict XVI. Credits: ESA


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