CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA announced that Pope Benedict XVI will be on the next Space Shuttle.
Speaking from the Vatican, the pontiff bestowed a historic blessing upon the 12 astronauts circling Earth during the first-ever papal call to space, wishing a swift recovery for the shuttle commander’s wounded congresswoman wife and condolences for a station astronaut mourning his mother’s death.
Soon after, the Pope announced that he would be traveling on the next space shuttle. “It has always been my dream,” The Pope said. “I want to get even closer to the heavens, and the Space Shuttle is the best way to do that.”
Seated at a table before a television set tuned to NASA’s live broadcast from orbit, Benedict told the space travelers that “you are our representatives spearheading humanity’s exploration of new spaces and possibilities for our future.” He said he admired their courage, discipline and commitment and was eager to join them in space.
“I can’t wait to float up there with you guys,” said the Pope.
“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 pontiff said, reading from prepared remarks. “I know that Mark Kelly’s wife was a victim of a serious attack, and I hope her health continues to improve.”.
Kelly told the pope that borders cannot be seen from space and noted that down on Earth, people usually fight for resources. At the space station, solar power provides unlimited energy, “and if those technologies could be adapted more on Earth, we could possibly reduce some of that violence,” he said.
Benedict asked about the future of the planet and the environmental risks it faces, and wanted to know what the astronauts’ most important message would be for young people when they return home.
Space station astronaut Ronald Garan Jr. spoke of the paper-thin layer of atmosphere “that separates every living thing from the vacuum of space.” And shuttle crewman Mike Fincke described how he and his colleagues “can look down and see our beautiful planet Earth that God has made.”
The Pope will be flying to Houston to begin his astronaut training program. He will be the first Pope launched into outer space. Amen.