Phoning the Heavens: Pope Calls Endeavour Astronauts

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Pope Benedict XVI waves to the 12 astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

Finding the intersection of science and religion, Pope Benedict thanked the astronauts for helping us learn about the wonders of the universe. 

Pope Benedict XVI made the first-ever papal call to space Saturday morning – and what could possibly be the last, as well. In the videoconference organized by NASA, the 12 astronauts aboard Endeavor and the International Space Station hosted the Holy Father in an 18-minute conversation.

(PHOTOS: See Endeavour’s launch)

Benedict, surely no stranger in speaking to the heavens, offered his support of the space exploration program and then extended his blessing to the astronauts, a mix of Americans, Russians and Italians.

“Welcome aboard, your holiness,” Commander Mark Kelly said at the beginning of the transmission as the Pope sat in front of a television screen in the Vatican library. Pope Benedict then offered his prayers for Kelly’s wife, Ariz. Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who had skull surgery Wednesday. “I think it must be obvious to you how we all live together on one Earth, and how absurd it is that we fight and kill one another,” the Pope said to the space crew.

(PHOTOS: See amazing views of the sun)

He also offered his condolences to Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli, whose 78-year-old mother passed away in early May while he was still aboard the space station. After the moving exchange in their native Italian tongue, the conversation returned to the astronauts’ mission. The 84-year-old Benedict chuckled when one of the astronauts began floating up during the call and his spokesman later said that the pope enjoyed the high-tech transmission.

Could this be the start of more phone calls from the skies above? If you’re listening, E.T.: Phone Rome.

(MORE: See why space shuttles are retired)