|Werner Arber, at this morning's press conference (credit: Vatican Radio)|
I assume many of you have seen this by now, but I'm reprinting the news release here. In the spirit of Lenten charity, Mahound's Paradise will, for once, refrain from commenting.
From Vatican Radio:
(Rome) In a startling announcement, Saturday morning, Werner Arber, President of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, confirmed that the Vatican is partnering with the European Space Agency to send a scientific team to the surface of the moon by the year 2030. Arbor stated that the mission would include the establishment of a permanent base, administered by the Space Agency but under the ultimate authority of the Roman Pontiff.
"This is the most exciting initiative of the Church since the convocation of the Second Vatican Council," said Arber, as part of his remarks. "It's been in the planning stages since 2014, but the participants agreed not to go public until full funding for the project had been obtained. What I can tell you is that the initial invitation to look into the plan's feasibility came directly from Pope Francis."
The Pope addressed the audience in a recorded video message:
"We go to the moon, not for national gain or individual self-interest but for all mankind (per tutta l'umanità). The Bishop of Rome remembers as a young priest in Argentina, the excitement of the first 'space race.' Sometimes framed as an element of the so-called 'Cold War,' the American and Russian effort to send a man to the moon was actually a triumph of the spirit of humanity, and transgressed the artificiality of borders. Everyone watched on television, men and women, the 'middle-class' and the poor, in Africa, Asia, the Americas, and yes, even here in Italy (laughter from the audience). The goal is to re-capture the spark of cooperation and unity that appears to be so lacking in today's world, a world that seems to lurch from one crisis to another without goal or purpose."
"Some say that we should solve the problems of our own planet. The Church emphatically says 'yes' to this, but the current initiative is part of that effort. With the earth at constant risk of destruction from climate change, nuclear proliferation and other causes, our best hope is to look outward, not inward; to embrace the challenges of the future, not cling to the comfort of the past. Europe is like an old women. She needs to drink from the cup of youth."
Werner said that ten men would initially land - a number radically greater than the two-person American missions of the 1960s and 1970s. Within five years, fifty would be inhabiting the base. Some of them would be priests.
The President of the Council then entertained a few short questions:
"Funding will primarily come from the Vatican Bank, with a portion contributed by private investors such as Jeff Bezos and the Blue Origin fund. The German Church has also pledged its support."
"The Church, as initiator, first ambassador and primary financial backer of the mission, would have formal authority over the new lunar territory. This was unanimously agreed to by ESA members, who had an additional interest in choosing a 'neutral' trans-national arbiter to suppress the political infighting that had burdened recent Space Agency initiatives. But practical administration of the installation would be a cooperative effort."
"The Vatican has not yet officially discussed the mission with government representatives outside of the European Union, but wider communication initiatives will commence shortly - all will be welcome to participate. In this, we certainly reach out to the United States."
Werner was also asked, to general laughter, whether the Pope himself would choose to go. "The Pope told me that he is an old man, and he certainly doesn't foresee himself as an astronaut. He confided that he'd rather watch it on television in the Vatican Gardens 'with my brother, Benedict XVI.'"