Astronauts visit papal summer residence

MagISStra and DAMA crews visit Pope Benedict XVI
19 September 2011

His Holiness the Pope made a video call to the International Space Station in May, talking with all 12 astronauts on ISS including the Shuttle crew for 20 minutes. This morning, he welcomed the astronauts to his summer residence.

ESA astronauts Paolo Nespoli and Roberto Vittori and their crewmates from their MagISStra and DAMA missions visited the Pontifical Villa of Castel Gandolfo in Italy for a private audience with his Holiness Pope Benedict XVI.

During the audience, Paolo and Roberto presented a commemorative coin to the Pope. The coin was originally taken up to the Space Station by Roberto, where he handed it over to Paolo during the video call to the Vatican in May.

The coin returned to Earth with Paolo aboard a Soyuz spacecraft.

The astronauts were very excited about the meeting with the pope in the frame of their postflight tour which started on Sunday at the German Space Day in Cologne and will end with mission presentations at ESTEC.

Astronomical residence

Pope Benedict XVI with ESA's Director General

Astronauts Catherine Coleman, Mark Kelly, Gregory Johnson, Michael Fincke, Andrew Feustel, Gregory Chamitoff and Scott Kelly, together with ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain and Volker Liebig, Director of Earth Observation, accompanied Paolo and Roberto during the visit.

The astronauts will take part in a joint press conference of ESA and the Italian space agency ASI this afternoon.

Astronomical residence

Castel Gandolfo is also important from a scientific point of view because it is the home of the Vatican observatory.

The observatory moved to the Papal Summer Residence in the Alban Hills some 35 km southeast of Rome in the 1930s to get away from the city’s growing light pollution.

Volker Liebig meets Pope Benedict XVI

The astronomers built three new telescopes and installed an astrophysical laboratory for spectral analysis. That new technique made several important research programmes on variable stars possible.

These days, the main observational effort takes place in Arizona, USA, where the papal astronomers have a second research centre and the modern Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope on Mount Graham, near Tuscon.

The premises in Castel Gandolfo are still used for astronomical work. The library contains more than 22 000 volumes – including rare antique books and the works of Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, Johannes Kepler and Tycho Brahe.

The observatory also has a unique meteorite collection.

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