05/18/2011 02:50 pm ET Updated Jul 18, 2011

Pope To Speak To International Space Station

By Francis X. Rocca
Religion News Service

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Benedict XVI will speak via satellite with astronauts on the International Space Station on Saturday (May 21), the first time a pope has conversed with astronauts in space.

The Rev. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, told reporters on Tuesday (May 17) that Benedict will be connected with the space station at 1:56 p.m. Rome time on Saturday.

The audiovisual transmission was planned to honor the last flight of space shuttle Endeavor, which launched from the Kennedy Space Center on Monday (May 16), and is scheduled to dock at the space station on Wednesday.

Benedict will address 12 astronauts on the space station, including Russians, Americans and two Italians. One of the Italians, Col. Roberto Vittori, a member of the Endeavor crew, will be carrying a silver medal given to him by the pope.

Papal encouragement of space exploration goes back more than four decades. Among the goodwill messages left on the moon by Apollo 11 astronauts in 1969 was one from Pope Paul VI: "I look up at your heavens, made by your fingers, at the moon and stars you set in place," he wrote, quoting from the Psalms.