Tag Archives: space shuttle

As Space Shuttle era ends, a question: Was it worth it?

July 7, 2011

0 Comments

Space Shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to lift off from the Kennedy Space Center at 10:26 a.m. central time on July 8 to deliver supplies to the International Space Station.

It will be the final mission of the shuttle program, which began in 1981 with STS-1 (STS stands for “space transportation system”) and now ends with STS 135.

Shuttle flights — a total of 134 up until Friday’s launch — can count many successes over the last three decades: The deployment of the Hubble Space Telescope as well as the Galileo spacecraft to Jupiter and Magellan spacecraft to Venus have given us new insights about our solar system and the universe beyond. Hundreds of scientific experiments have been conducted in orbit. And shuttle missions have been instrumental in the construction and maintenance of the International Space Station, which could nurture continued global collaboration in the fields of science and space exploration.

Of course, there also have been tragedies: the 1986 loss of the Challenger and its crew of seven 73 seconds after liftoff. And the break up of Columbia over east Texas in 2003 that killed seven astronauts.

As the last shuttle mission looms, I’ve been wondering how we as Catholics should be thinking about space exploration and its future.

Were the shuttle missions worth it? Should we as a nation continue to invest in a space program given the other challenges we face as a planet — problems like poverty and environmental degradation that would seem to need more immediate attention?

On the other hand, I recall the recent satellite linkup between Pope Benedict XVI and 12 astronauts aboard the ISS. One astronaut noted that the science and technology designed and used for the space station could lead to adaptations on earth that would lesson conflict — sometimes violent conflict between nations — over energy resources.

I would also add that exploring the universe can help us better understand God’s creation and our place in it — and wouldn’t God want us to do that?

On the eve of this last Space Shuttle flight, I’m curious what other Catholics think about these questions. What are your thoughts?

Continue reading...

Pope, astronauts talk about peace, prayer, the environment

May 21, 2011

0 Comments

YouTube Preview ImagePope Benedict XVI spoke today via satellite linkup with 12 astronauts, including crewmembers from the space shuttle Endeavour, currently aboard the International Space Station.

“Humanity is experiencing a period of extremely rapid progress in the fields of scientific knowledge and technical applications,” the pope said according to a transcript of the event provided by Vatican Radio.

“In a sense, you are our representatives — spearheading humanity’s exploration of new spaces and possibilities for our future, going beyond the limitations of our everyday existence. We all admire your courage, as well as the discipline and commitment with which you prepared yourselves for this mission,” he said.

The pope also asked the crew several questions. Here are some highlights from the conversation:

Pope Benedict asked the astronauts if they ever wonder, as they fly over nations and continents, how science can contribute to the cause of peace in a world racked by violence. He noted that shuttle astronaut Mark Kelly’s wife, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was the victim of violence herself, and the pope expressed his hope that her health would continue to improve.

Kelly, a Catholic, responded:

“Thank you for the kind words, Your Holiness, and thank you for mentioning my wife Gabby. It’s a very good question: We fly over most of the world and you don’t see borders, but at the same time we realize that people fight with each other and there is a lot of violence in this world and it’s really an unfortunate thing. Usually, people fight over many different things. As we’ve seen in the Middle East right now: it’s somewhat for democracy in certain areas, but usually people fight for resources. And it’s interesting in space … on earth, people often fight for energy; in space we use solar power and we have fuel cells on the space station. You know, the science and the technology that we put into the space station to develop a solar power capability, gives us pretty much an unlimited amount of energy. And if those technologies could be adapted more on earth, we could possibly reduce some of that violence.”

Pope Benedict, citing environmental threats facing the planet, asked the astronauts what issues people needed to be more attentive to.

Space station astronaut Ronald Garan Jr. said: “On the one hand, we can see how indescribably beautiful the planet that we have been given is; but on the other hand, we can really clearly see how fragile it is. Just the atmosphere, for instance: the atmosphere when viewed from space is paper thin, and to think that this paper-thin layer is all that separates every living thing from the vacuum of space and is all that protects us, is really a sobering thought. …”

Garan said he was filled with hope to think that the international partnership that led to the construction of the space station could be applied to other issues. “That just shows that by working together and by cooperating we can overcome many of the problems that face our planet,” he said.

Pope Benedict asked the astronauts about the most important message they would like to convey, especially to young people, when they return to Earth.

Shuttle crewman Mike Fincke responded:

“Your Holiness, as my colleagues have indicated, we can look down and see our beautiful planet Earth that God has made, and it is the most beautiful planet in the whole solar system. However, if we look up, we can see the rest of the universe, and the rest of the universe is out there for us to go explore. And the International Space Station is just one symbol, one example of what human beings can do when we work together constructively. So our message, I think — one of our many messages, but I think one of our most important messages — is to let the children of the planet know, the young people know, that there is a whole universe for us to go explore. And when we do it together, there is nothing that we cannot accomplish.”

The pope then went on to ask the astronauts whether, in the midst of their work and scientific research in space, they ever have time to stop and reflect on the origins and destiny of the universe and humankind.

Shuttle astronaut Roberto Vittori, who brought along a coin given to him by the pope that shows the “Creation of Man” painted by Michelangelo on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, said that while work in space is intense, “we all have an opportunity, when the nights come, to look down on Earth: Our planet, the blue planet, is beautiful.”

Vittori added: “I do pray for me, for our families, for our future. I took with me the coin and I allow this coin to float in front of me to demonstrate lack of gravity. … I’d like to allow this coin to float to my friend and colleague [space station astronaut Paolo Nespoli]. He will make the return to Earth on the [Russian Soyuz capsule]. I brought it with me to space and he will take it down to Earth to then give it back to you.”

The pope then spoke in Italian with Nespoli, whose 78-year-old mother died in Italy at the beginning of May while he was serving on the space station. The pope said he prayed for the astronaut’s mother and asked how he was coping.

“Holy Father, I felt your prayers and everyone’s prayers arriving up here where outside the world … we have a vantage point to look at the Earth and we feel everything around us,” Nespoli replied in Italian, according to the Huffingtonpost.com.

Pope Benedict concluded the conversation by saying he would continue to pray for the astronauts and imparting his apostolic blessing.

Continue reading...

Can you hear me now? Pope to make long distance call to space

May 19, 2011

2 Comments

International Space Station

On Saturday at 1:11 p.m. Rome time (6:11 a.m. Minnesota time), Pope Benedict XVI will speak live via satellite with astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

The event, meant to honor the last flight of the Space Shuttle Endeavour, will be streamed on the Internet at the Vatican Radio-CTV site, according to the Holy See Press Office.

There are 12 astronauts aboard the space station, including Col. Roberto Vittori, an Italian who is part of the Endeavour’s crew and who is carrying a silver medal from the pope, Vatican Radio said.

Endeavour, which launched May 16 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida,  is scheduled to return to earth June 1.

While Vatican Radio said the communication by Pope Benedict would mark the first time a pope converses with astronauts while they are in space, it is not the first time a pope has sent a message to astronauts.

Pope Paul VI sent a note to the Apollo 11 astronauts — Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin — to celebrate the first moon landing in 1969.

“Honor, greetings and blessings to you, conquerors of the moon, pale lamp of our nights and our dreams,” Pope Paul told them, according to a Catholic News Service story from 2009 marking the event’s 40th anniversary.

The pope also met with the astronauts later that year at the Vatican.

“Man has a natural urge to explore the unknown, to know the unknown; yet man has also a fear of the unknown,” he told them. “Your bravery has transcended this fear and through your intrepid adventure man has taken another step toward knowing more of the universe.”

Continue reading...