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

May 19, 2011

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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.”

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