Pope May Make 1st Call to Space Station Astronauts

Backdropped by rugged Earth terrain, the International Space Station is featured in this image photographed by an STS-130 crew member on space shuttle Endeavour after the station and shuttle began their post-undocking relative separation.
The International Space Station is primarily a science laboratory in space. NASA would like to invest in ventures beyond Earth orbit, but industry leaders fear what will happen if the agency pulls out its investment in the station before a commercial options is available. (Image credit: NASA)

This story was updated at 9:55 a.m. EST.

The Pope may make a special call to the International Space Station during the upcoming flight of the space shuttle Endeavour, according to a NASA official.

In what would be the first papal call to space, discussions are underway to try to arrange for Pope Benedict XVI to speak to two Italian astronauts onboard the space station, NASA spokesman Rob Navias told SPACE.com.[Stunning Space Photos by Italian Astronaut Paolo Nespoli]

NASA is discussing the potential call with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian Space Agency (Agenzia Spaziale Italian or ASI), he said.

"No final decision has been made – it is under discussion," Navias said. "We are discussing with ESA and ASI the potential of the pontiff calling the crew in a scheduled event slot that belongs to ESA."Part of what will drive this, in whether or not it comes to fruition, is whether or not we launch on April 29, what the Pope's schedule looks like and whether there is any other opportunities if we launch later than the 29th."

If Endeavour launches as scheduled next Friday, the call may occur on May 4, according to an Associated Press report, which cited the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano.

European Space Agency astronaut Roberto Vittori, who has flown twice before to the space station, is one of the crewmembers of Endeavour's STS-134 mission, which is slated to launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on April 29.

The satellite call will occur when Endeavour is docked to the orbiting outpost. Endeavour's STS-134 mission will be the orbiter's last before the shuttle is retired from service.

The second Italian astronaut, Paolo Nespoli, has been living and working on the International Space Station since December. Nespoli launched to the station aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket.

Nespoli is expected to return to Earth in September with two of his station crewmates, NASA astronaut Cady Coleman and Russian cosmonaut Dmitry Kondratyev.

During the call, one of the astronauts will be carrying a silver medal that was donated by the Pope, according to the AP.

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Denise Chow
NBC News science writer

Denise Chow is a former Space.com staff writer who then worked as assistant managing editor at Live Science before moving to NBC News as a science reporter, where she focuses on general science and climate change. She spent two years with Space.com, writing about rocket launches and covering NASA's final three space shuttle missions, before joining the Live Science team in 2013. A Canadian transplant, Denise has a bachelor's degree from the University of Toronto, and a master's degree in journalism from New York University. At NBC News, Denise covers general science and climate change.