In a first for the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI called the international space station (ISS) May 21 and spoke to the outpost’s two Italian astronauts and their 10 colleagues.
“Dear astronauts, I am very happy to have this extraordinary opportunity to converse with you during your mission and especially grateful to be able to speak to so many of you as both crews are present on the space station at this time,” said the pope, reading in English from prepared remarks.
The video call originated from the Foconi Room of the Vatican Library in Rome and was organized by the European Space Agency, whose astronauts Paolo Nespoli and Roberto Vittori were onboard the space station for the call.
Nespoli and Vittori are the first two Italian astronauts to fly in space at the same time. Vittori arrived at the station May 18 along with the rest of Endeavour’s crew. Nespoli launched to the space station in December and spent five months onboard before returning to Earth May 23 in a Russian Soyuz capsule.
Joining the two Italians for the space-to-ground conversation were the U.S. and Russian crew members of the Space Shuttle Endeavour’s STS-134 mission and the space station’s Expedition 27.
The pope asked the astronauts and cosmonauts about how being in space affected their views on a variety of subjects, including the violence experienced between nations, protection of the Earth’s environment and their personal connections to God.
On May 23, as Nespoli was preparing to return home, he and Vittori received a call from Italian President Giorgio Napolitano.