Saturday, May 21, 2011

Astronauts receive first papal call to space

Pope Benedict XVI this morning offered blessings to 12 astronauts and cosmonauts orbiting on the International Space Station and asked for their views on exploration and scientific advancement.

In a call from the Vatican Library, he wished continued recovery to Endeavour commander Mark Kelly's wife Gabrielle Giffords, the victim of a shooting in January, and offered condolences to Expedition 27 flight engineer Paulo Nespoli, who's mother died recently.

"In a few days you will come back home, you will not find her waiting for you," the pope said in Italian that was translated. "How have you been living through this time of pain on the International Space Station? Do you feel isolated and alone, or united amongst ourselves in a commmunity that follows you with attention and affection?

"Holy Father, I felt your prayers and everyone’s prayers arriving up here," said Nespoli, who will return to Earth Monday night with American Cady Coleman and Russian Dmitry Kondratyev. " I felt very far but also very close, and the thought of feeling all of you near me at this time has been a great relief."

Benedict, speaking in English during the rest of the 20-minute discussion that began at 7:11 a.m. EDT, asked the crew members if violence on Earth seemed absurd to them from their vantage point in space, and cited the attach on Giffords.

"When you are contemplating the Earth from up there, do you ever wonder about the way nations and people live together down here, or about how science can contribute to the cause of peace?" he asked.

"Thank you for the kind words, your Holiness, and thank you for mentioning my wife, Gabby," said Kelly.

Kelly said broader application of solar power technology used by the space station could reduce conflict over energy resources on Earth. 

Station flight engineer Ron Garan said the accomplishment of building an international space station offered hope that "by working together and by cooperating, we can overcome many of the problems that face our planet."

Benedict asked what message the astronauts wanted to convey to young people who look up to them.

"One of our most important messages is to let the children of the planet know, the young people know, that there’s a whole universe for us to go explore, and when we do it together, there’s nothing that we cannot accomplish," said Endeavour mission specialist Mike Fincke. ".

Benedict thanked the crew members for the dialogue.

"You helped me and many other people to reflect together on important issues that regard the future of humanity," he said. "I will continue to follow you in my thoughts and prayers."

The call was the first by a pope to astronauts in space.

Earlier today, the Endeavour crew inspected a damaged heat shield tile. Before going to sleep around 1:26 p.m. EDT, the crew is preparing for a spacewalk Sunday, the second of four planned during Endeavour's 16-day mission.

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