Pope Francis has reached for the stars with a video call to the six crew members of the International Space Station.
With schoolboy wonder, he listened and posed some tricky questions in Thursday’s link-up, lasting some 20 minutes.
Francis, the second pontiff to phone the ISS after Pope Benedict in 2011, asked, for example, about “man’s place in the universe”.
Sitting behind a desk with a television monitor in front of him, he seemed moved by some of the answers he received.
Mission Commander Randy Bresnik, one of three Americans on board, told the pope that “people cannot come up here and see the indescribable beauty of our earth and not be touched in their souls.”
“There’s no borders, there’s no conflict; it’s just peaceful,” he said.
“And you see the thinness of the atmosphere and it makes you realise how fragile our existence here is. So, as we work to get more access to space and more people can see that perspective from space, then maybe humanity’s future is a lot better than what we have now.”
The pope agreed that the earth is fragile, saying it could even destroy itself.
But the spacemen, he said, had an opportunity to see our planet “from the eyes of God”.
Sergey Ryazanskiy, one of two Russians on the space station, said he had decided to be a cosmonaut because his grandfather was one of the chief engineers who built Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, which the Soviet Union sent into a low Earth orbit in 1957 during the Cold War.
“Roots are our hope and our strength. Don’t forget roots,” Francis replied approvingly of the reference to being inspired by a grandfather.
Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli, who acted as translator for his Russian and American crew mates, thanked the pope for coming “on board” and “for taking us higher”.