In a 20-minute conversation between the Pope and the crew of Expedition 5253, which was streamed live on NASA TV, Pope Francis posed several questions about humans’ place in the universe to six astronauts hailing from the United States, Italy and Russia.
“As you’re contemplating the undoubted limits of the universe, it makes us think about where we come from and where we’re going,” he said. “In light of your experiences in space, what are your thoughts regarding the place of man in the universe?” the Pope began.
Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli admitted the complexity of the Pope’s question, and said that thinking about where we come from leaves him “perplexed.”
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“I think that our objective here is that of knowing our being and to fill our knowledge to understand what’s around us,” he said. “But on the other hand, an interesting thing is that the more we know, the more we realize how little we know,” Nespoli continued.
Pope Francis also pointed out a painting in the room he was sitting in that is based on the Divine Comedy — a narrative poem written by Italian poet Dante Alighieri in the 14th century. The Pope referenced the section of the poem that refers to love as a force that “moves the sun and the other stars,” and asked the crew whether they’d refer to love as the force that moves the universe.
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In response, Russian crew member Alexander Misurkin discussed the famous children’s book, The Little Prince — a story where a boy is prepared to give his life for the well-being of someone he cares about.
“The best example of what is love is perhaps what is shown in this book,” Misurkin said through a translator.
The Pope quickly moved on to other topics and asked the astronauts what inspired them to pursue their line of work and what they most enjoyed about the space station.
NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik also volunteered his inspiration, saying that what gives him the greatest satisfaction is being able to see “God’s creation from his perspective.”
“People cannot come up here and see the indescribable beauty of the Earth and not be touched in their souls,” Bresnik continued.
NASA astronaut Joe Acaba ended the call by thanking the Pope “for making us reflect on things that are greater than we are.”
Space.com writes that Pope Benedict XVI became the first pope to phone the space station back in 2011 and spoke to a group of 11 astronauts from Expedition 27 and the space shuttle Endeavour’s STS-134 mission.
Nespoli, Bresnik and Ryazansky travelled to the space station this past July, followed by Acaba, Misurkin and NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei in September.