.- The Italian astronaut who spoke to Pope Benedict XVI from space says that being in orbit inspires deep contemplation and raises the mind and heart to God.
“It’s the beauty,” Roberto Vittori told CNA, “the beauty of the earth seen from space, the beauty of nature, the beauty of the blue planet,” which show “there must be something beyond science and technology.”
On 21 May 2011, 48-year-old Vittori was one of 12 astronauts on board the International Space Station who participated in the first ever Papal videoconference with outer space.
During the 18-minute conversation the Pope asked the Italian astronaut if “in the midst of your intense work and research” did he ever “stop to reflect like this or perhaps say a prayer to the Creator?” Vittori informed the Pope that “I do pray for me, for our families, for our future.”
“A videoconference is something standard onboard the International Space Station,” Vittori explained, but he added that “that videoconference nevertheless was special.”
“That type of opportunity was perceived as special, not only for the technicality, for the beauty of the scenario, but also for the depth of the messages that were filtering through the radio from the Vatican.”
A colonel in the Italian Air Force, Vittori was selected to be an astronaut in 1998 by the Italian Space Agency. He first journeyed into space in 2002 as part of a mission to the International Space Station. He has since twice returned, in 2005 and 2011. Last week on 23 Feb. he took part in a conference entitled “Space and God” which was co-organized by the Diocese of Rome.
He said the experience of being an astronaut “is so unique” that “when you’re back and you try to think about what happened, it almost seems that it never happened. It seems surreal.” He said space travel is an experience that “really captures your eyes and your heart.”
Before leaving on his 2011 mission, Vittori was given a special coin by Pope Benedict. It was engraved with Michelangelo’s “Creation of Man” as depicted in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel. During his Papal videoconference, Vittori used the coin to illustrate the effects of microgravity.
In Sept 2011 he and his fellow Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli personally returned the coin to Pope Benedict at a special audience held at the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo.
“Space initially was an area of a competition, if not more, between Russia and the US,” he said, “but today space is putting together many countries including Russia and the US.” That is why he viewed “that particular journey of the coin from the Vatican to the Vatican” as symbolic of that cooperation.
At present Vittori, who is married with three children, is unsure if he will return to space for another mission or if he will opt for a more earth-bound job.
“I shall just have to wait and keep the faith,” he said smiling.