At 3 p.m. (Rome time) on October 26, 2017, from the Auletta of Paul VI Hall, Pope Francis had a live audio-video connection with the crew of Mission 53 on board the International Space Station, a 400-kilometer flight from the Earth.
The crew is made up by Randolph Bresnik (U.S.A.), Commander of NASA; Paolo Nespoli (Italy), ESA engineer; Mark T. Vande Hei (U.S.A.) NASA engineer; Joseph Acaba (U.S.A., native of Puerto Rico) NASA engineer; Sergey Ryazanskiy (Russia), engineer and Alexander Misurkin (Russia), engineer.
Present in the Auletta during the conversation were the President of the Italian Space Agency (ASI), Roberto Battiston and the Director of the Programs of the Observation of the Earth of the European Space Agency (ASE), Josef Aschbacher.
The conversation with the crew of the International Space Station lasted some 25 minutes. The Pope asked the astronauts five questions, ending the conversation with a final greeting. Here is a ZENIT translation of the text of the conversation between the Holy Father and the Astronauts.
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The Holy Father’s Conversation with the Astronauts
Good morning <to> you all!
Paolo Nespoli: Good morning, Your Holiness. Welcome to the International Space Station, <welcome> among us, among the crew of expedition 52 and 53.
Good morning! . . . or Good evening . . . because, when one is in space, one never knows! Dear Dr. Nespoli, dear astronauts, I think that there, in the Space Station the days flow in a different way, no? I thank you and all those who organized this connection, which gives me the possibility to “meet” you and to ask you some questions. I begin immediately with the first question.
(Question 1) Astronomy makes us contemplate the endless horizons of the universe, and arouses in us the questions: where do we come from? Where are we going? I ask you, Dr. Nespoli: in the light of your experience in space, what is your thought about man’s place in the universe?
Paolo Nespoli: Holy Father, this is a complex question. I feel myself a technical person, an engineer, I feel at ease among machines, among experiments, but when there is talk of these much more internal things – – “where do we come from. . .” I am also perplexed. It’s a very delicate discourse. I think our objective is to know our being, to fill <our> knowledge, to understand what’s around us. And among others, it’s an interesting thing, because the more we know the more we realize we know little. I would very much like persons like you — not only engineers, not only physicists –, but persons like you — theologians, philosophers, poets, writers . . . could come here in space, and this will surely be the future; I would like them to come here to explore what it means to have a human being in space.
Holy Father: What you say is true.
(Question 2) In this hall from which I’m speaking to you, there is — as you can see — an artistic tapestry inspired by the famous verse with which Dante ends the Divine Comedy: “The Love that Moves the Sun and the Other Stars” (Paradise, XXXIII, 145). I ask you: what meaning does it have for you — who are all engineers and astronauts, as you well said –, what meaning does it have for you to call the force that moves the universe “love”?
Paolo Nespoli: Holy Father, I would like to give the floor to my Russian colleague Aleksandr Misurkin, who will address you in Russian.
[Misurkin answers in Russian]
Paolo Nespoli: Holy Father, I hope we haven’t surprised you with Russian: Do you have the ability to have a translation there, or should we summarize it quickly?
It’s better to summarize it quickly.
Paolo Nespol translates: Colleague Aleksandr gave a very beautiful answer in Russian, which I will now translate somewhat like this, quickly. He made reference to a book he is reading these days up here, to reflect, “The Little Prince” of Saint Exupery. He makes reference to the story that he gives gladly – or would give gladly – his own life to return and save the plants and animals on earth. And, essentially, love is that strength that gives you the capacity to give your life for someone else.
I like this answer. It’s true, without love, it’s not possible to give one’s life for someone else. This is true. One sees that you have understood the message that Saint Exupery explains so poetically and that you, Russians, have in the blood, in your very humanistic and very religious tradition. This is beautiful. Thank you.
(Question 3) This one is a curiosity. They say that women are curious, but we men are also curious! What motivated you to become astronauts? What in the main gives you joy in the time you spend in the space station?
Paolo Nespoli: Holy Father, I will give the microphone to two colleagues: the Russian colleague Sergey Ryazanskiy and the American colleague Randy Bresnik.
[Ryazansky answers in English] Paolo Nespoli translates:
[Bresnik answers in English Paul Nespoli translates:
[Bresnik continues in English] Paolo Nespoli translates:
He said that his inspiration was his grandfather: his grandfather was one of the first pioneers of space; he worked on the Sputnik satellite, the first satellite to fly over the Earth; he was one of those responsible for the construction of the satellite, and he took his inspiration from his grandfather, he wanted to follow in his footsteps, because in his opinion, space is interesting and beautiful, but also very important for us, as human beings.
What I see from here is an incredible perspective: it’s the possibility of seeing the Earth somewhat with God’s eyes, and to see the beauty and incredibility of this planet.
In our orbital speed of 10 kilometers per second, we see the Earth with different eyes: we see an Earth without borders, we see an Earth where the atmosphere is extremely fine and fleeting, and to look at this Earth in this way enables us to think how human beings, how we human beings should work together and collaborate for a better future.
I was very pleased with what the two of you said in this answer. You, the first, went to the very roots to explain this: you went to <your> grandfather. And you, who come from America, were able to understand that the Earth is too fragile, it’s a moment that passes: 10 kilometers per second, said Dr. Nespoli . . . The atmosphere is a very fragile, subtle reality enough to destroy us. And you went to look, in fact, with God’s eyes — <your> grandfather and God: the roots and our hope, our strength. Never forget the roots: and it does me good to hear this, and to hear it from you! Thank you.
(Question 4) I would like to ask you another question: to travel in space modifies so many things that are taken for granted in daily life, for example the idea of “up” and “down.” I ask you: was there something in particular that surprised you living in space? And, on the contrary, is there something that struck you precisely because it was also confirmed there, in such a different context?
Paolo Nespoli: Thank you, Holy Father, for this question. I will give the floor to the American colleague Mark Vande Hei.
[Vande Hei answers in English]
Paolo Nespoli translates:
Mark says that what surprised him is that in space you find things that are completely different, which seem the same but <are> not recognizable. Every now and then I approach something from a completely different angle and at first I’m a bit disconcerted, because I am unable to understand where they are, to understand what it is. Instead, what has not changed is that here also where there is no “up” and “down,’ to be able to understand where I am and to find myself in this situation I must decide where “up” is and where “down” is. And, therefore, establish my micro-cosmos, my micro-universe with my sense and my systems of reference.
And this is something very human: the capacity to decide, of decision. The answer seems interesting to me because it also goes to the human roots.
(Question 5) And now, if you have the courtesy to listen, I’ll ask another question. Our society is very individualistic and in life, instead, collaboration is essential. I think of all the work that is behind an enterprise like yours. Can you give me a significant example of your collaboration in the Space Station?
Paolo Nespoloi: Holy Father, an optimal question. I’ll leave the question to the American colleague Joseph Acaba who is of Puerto Rican descent.
Joseph Acaba: Holy Father, it’s a great honor to speak with you . . . [he continues in English]
Paolo Nespoli translates
Joe recalled that for this Station there is cooperation between several nations of the world: there is the United States, there is Russia, Japan, Canada, nine European nations . . . And he recalled how these nations work together to obtain something that is beyond each one of them. However, one of the important and interesting things that he said is the fact that each one of us bears a difference and these differences put together make a much greater whole than an individual person could be; and working thus together, in this collaborative spirit to go beyond, this is the way for us as human beings, to go out of the world and continue this voyage in knowledge.
Your are a small “Glass Palace!! The totality is greater that the sum of the parts, and this is the example that you give us.
Thank you so much, dear friends, I would like to say: dear brothers, because we feel ourselves representatives of the whole human family in the great project of research that is the Space Station. My heartfelt thanks for this conversation, which has enriched me very much. May the Lord bless you, your work and your families. I assure you: I will pray for you and you, please, pray for me. Thank you!
Paolo Nespoli: Holy Father, on behalf of all I want to thank you for having been with us today, on the International Space Station. This is a place where we do much research, where we go to seek the things of every day. We thank you for having been with us and for having led us higher and having pulled us out of this daily mechanicalness, and making us think of greater things than ourselves. Thank you again!
© Libreria Editrice Vatican
ZENIT translation from Italian by Virginia M. Forrester