22 May 2011

Pope speaks to Space Station astronauts

12:09 pm on 22 May 2011

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

Speaking from the Vatican library on Saturday, the Pope told the astronauts, who are American, Russian, and Italian, that they are a shining example of scientific endeavor.

Pope Benedict said he admired their courage, discipline and commitment.

He added that he hopes shuttle commander Mark Kelly's wife continues to improve.

US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in Tucson, Arizona, on 8 January when six people were killed and 12 others wounded.

Commander Kelly thanked him for his kind words.

The pope also had a personal message in Italian for ISS flight engineer Paolo Nespoli, whose mother died on 2 May.

''Holy Father, I felt your prayers and everyone's prayers arriving up here,'' Nespoli replied, also in Italian. ''I felt very far, but also very close.''

The papal audience was arranged by the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. NASA provided technical support from Houston. It was the first papal call to space.