Two Italian astronauts orbiting on Space Shuttle prompt live papal interchange, blessing.

“Dear astronauts,” the pope began, speaking in English, from a desk at the Vatican, headquarters for the Roman Catholic Church. “I’m very happy to have this extraordinary opportunity to converse with you during your mission.

“Humanity is experiencing a period of extremely rapid progress in the face of scientific knowledge and technical applications. In a sense, you are our representatives spearheading humanity’s exploration of new spaces and possibilities for our future, going beyond the limitations of our everyday existence. We all admire your courage, as well as the discipline, commitment with which you’ve prepared yourselves for this mission.

“This conversation gives me the chance to express my own admiration and appreciation to you and also to collaborate in making your mission possible and to add my heartfelt encouragement to bring it to a safe and successful conclusion,” the Pope said.

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