by Anura Guruge
On Wednesday, May 4, 2011, the 84-year old Pope Benedict XVI (#266) will call the International Space Station (ISS), now orbiting ~220 miles above the surface of the Earth, to talk to the two Italian astronauts, viz. Paolo Nespoli (54) & Roberto Vittori (46) who will be on board at that time. This is being portrayed as the first call by a pope to outer space, though I think that this needs caveats just to be fair to the past popes since most people, including popes, do assume that God is somewhere up there in space.
[Bl. John XXIII (#262) aside re. ‘God above’: Italian Domencio Tardini [1888 – 1961], substitute Secretary of State (under Pius XII (#261)) since 1935 (refusing a cardinalate in 1953), became a cardinal (Dec. 1958) and Secretary of State (Nov 1958) soon after John XXIII became pope in October 1958. That they liked and respected each other was no secret. But, John heard through the legendary Vatican grapevine that Tardini would often refer to him, when talking to the staff in the Secretariat as ‘The one up there.’ So, at one of their frequent meetings, the pope tells Tardini: “Caro Tardini, let me set you right about something. ‘The one up there’ is the Lord God of us all. I am only the ‘The one on the fourth floor.’ I beg you, please don’t throw confusion into the ranks.” Page 268 of Lawrence Elliott’s delightful 1973 ‘I Will Be Called John,’ SBN: 0-88349-002-1]
Paolo Nespoli has been aboard the ISS since December 2010. Roberto Vittori will be taken up to the ISS by the Space Shuttle, Endeavour, on (or around) April 29 (depending on weather) — this being Endeavour’s final mission, having previously made 24 trips up there and back.
This is the first time that two Italians have been in space together.
For a list of other technological firsts when it comes to the popes.