One of my hobbies is sky-watching. I like looking up on clear nights to identify ancient constellations, search for planets as they wander through the backdrop of stars and watch for the ephemeral streaks of seasonal meteor showers. Another object I can sometimes easily see without needing a telescope is the International Space Station.
This past July, I spent several warm, summer nights watching it pass overhead — a bright dot moving quickly (17,000 mph!) and quietly across the sky. I stood and watched — in awe of this complex, humanmade machine that has continuously orbited our planet with astronauts aboard since the year 2000, and in awe of the vastness and beauty of the night sky.
And I wondered: What were the astronauts on the space station seeing and thinking in that moment as I watched them from my balcony in central Minnesota? What’s it like to look down on the earth from 250 miles above? Does it give you a greater reverence and appreciation for God’s creation?
One person who knows what it’s like to view the earth from this unique perspective is Mark Vande Hei, a NASA astronaut with Minnesota connections. Vande Hei graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physics from St. John’s University in Collegeville in 1989 and is an alum of Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School in St. Louis Park. He served on the International Space Station for five-and-a half months from September 2017 to late February 2018. A married father of two, he currently works as NASA’s assistant to the chief astronaut for extravehicular activity and robotics.
He’s also a Catholic guy, proudly so. I had an opportunity recently to interview him for an episode of Minnesota Catholic Podcasts. We talked about how seeing the earth from space gave him a new perspective on his place in the universe, how he went about practicing his faith in space, and what it was like to meet Pope Francis on a visit following the mission. We also talked about the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing and the possibility of future missions to the moon and beyond.
You can hear the interview by visiting minnesotacatholicpodcasts.libsyn.com. You also can receive notices of future podcasts by subscribing to Minnesota Catholic Podcasts via iTunes or GooglePlay.