The Pope’s Environmental Question to an Astronaut

In an interesting correspondence with astronaut’s last week, of the 5 questions asked by the Pope, one pertained explicitly to the environment (question 2), and one was related (question 1), in the sense of the connection between peace and environment. For Americans, the mention of House representative Gabrielle Giffords to Space Station commander Mark Kelly is significant. So far, interviews are emerging as some of the most enlightening occasions for hearing the Pope on environment and sharing his own heart, as in the extraordinary response to a girl asking about the calamity in Japan. Below the highlights from the dialogue:

Pope Benedict XVI: “…this is a conversation, so I must not be the only one doing the talking. I am very curious to hear you tell me about your experiences and your reflections. If you don’t mind, I would like to ask you a few questions.

First Question

From the Space Station you have a very different view of the Earth. You fly over different continents and nations several times a day. 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 each other. I know that Mark Kelly’s wife was a victim of a serious attack and I hope her health continues to improve. When you are contemplating the Earth from up there, do you ever wonder about the way nations and people live together down here, or about how science can contribute to the cause of peace?

Mark Kelly, USA

Well, thank you for the kind words, Your Holiness, and thank you for mentioning my wife Gabby. It’s a very good question: we fly over most of the world and you don’t see borders, but at the same time we realize that people fight with each other and there is a lot of violence in this world and it’s really an unfortunate thing.

Usually, people fight over many different things. As we’ve seen in the Middle East right now: it’s somewhat for democracy in certain areas, but usually people fight for resources. And it’s interesting in space … on Earth, people often fight for energy; in space we use solar power and we have fuel cells on the Space Station.

You know, the science and the technology that we put into the Space Station to develop a solar power capability, gives us pretty much an unlimited amount of energy. And if those technologies could be adapted more on Earth, we could possibly reduce some of that violence.

Second Question

One of the themes I often return to in my discourses concerns the responsibility we all have towards the future of our planet. I recall the serious risks facing the environment and the survival of future generations. Scientists tell us we have to be careful and from an ethical point of view we must develop our consciences as well. From your extraordinary observation point, how do you see the situation on Earth? Do you see signs or phenomena to which we need to be more attentive?

Ron Garan, USA

Well, Your Holiness, it’s a great honor to speak with you and you’re right: it really is an extraordinary vantage point we have up here. On the one hand, we can see how indescribably beautiful the planet that we have been given is; but on the other hand, we can really clearly see how fragile it is. Just the atmosphere, for instance: the atmosphere when viewed from space is paper-thin, and to think that this paper-thin layer is all that separates every living thing from the vacuum of space and is all that protects us, is really a sobering thought.

You know, it seems to us that it’s just incredible to view the Earth hanging in the blackness of space and to think that we are all on this together, riding through this beautiful fragile oasis through the universe, it really fills us with a lot of hope to think that all of us on board this incredible orbiting Space Station that was built by the many nations of our international partnership, to accomplish this tremendous feat in orbit, I think … you know, that just shows that by working together and by cooperating we can overcome many of the problems that face our planet, we could solve many of the challenges that face the inhabitants of our planet … it really is a wonderful place to live and work, and it’s a wonderful place to view our beautiful Earth.

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