Pope makes first video call to astronauts at space stationAgence France-Presse
VATICAN CITY—Pope Benedict XVI chatted with astronauts Saturday as the Vatican linked up with the International Space Station for the first-ever papal video call to space.
“Welcome aboard the Space Station your Holiness,” said Dmitry Kondratyev, Russian commander of the 26th long-duration mission to the International Space Station.
The crews of the ISS and the linked space shuttle Endeavour waved to the pope, who smiled and waved back.
Speaking from the Vatican library, Benedict said he admired the astronauts’ courage and commitment and described their mission as “an adventure to discover the origins of humanity.”
“Humanity is experiencing a period of extremely rapid progress in the fields of scientific knowledge and technical applications. In a sense, you are our representatives,” he said.
The pontiff said the teams were “spearheading humanity’s exploration of new spaces and possibilities for our future, going beyond the limitations of our everyday existence.”
He then eagerly asked five questions about life in space and the perception of the world from so far away, before personally addressing the two Italian astronauts on board, Roberto Vittori and Paolo Nespoli.
The pope also said his thoughts and prayers went to US shuttle commander Mark Kelly, whose wife — Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords — is recovering from a head wound suffered during a shooting at a political rally in Arizona in January.
Benedict also sent his condolences to Nespoli, whose mother died at the beginning of the month while he was on this mission, telling him he had prayed for her and asking the bereaved Italian how he had coped.
“Do you feel isolated and alone? Or do you feel united in a community which follows you with attention and affection?” he asked Nespoli, who said the group was united and had helped him through his grief.
At the end of the 20-minute call, the astronauts waved cheerfully to the pope, one of them floating up above the others’ heads in a gravity-defying prank which made the pope chuckle.
As the live broadcast from orbit came to an end, Vittori floated a silver medal the pope gave him across to Nespoli — who ends his five-month mission on Monday and will carry the medallion back with him to return it to the pontiff.