In this time of endings for the space shuttle, there are still a few firsts left.
On Saturday morning, Pope Benedict XVI made the first ever papal “visit” (via video link) to astronauts in orbit. In many ways it was an extraordinary conversation, ranging from the future of space exploration to condolences (to Paolo Nespoli for the loss of his mother) to the privileged view that astronauts have of Earth (an “angelic” view, in a recent phrase of astronaut Cady Coleman’s). The interview is worth watching:
Speaking of firsts, this afternoon a Soyuz spacecraft with three people onboard—Nespoli, Coleman, and departing space station commander Dimitri Kondratyev—will for the first time undock from the station while a shuttle is still attached, allowing the Soyuz crew to take unprecedented photos of the two vehicles together. Such a picture exists for the much smaller Mir station, but not for the International Space Station. The undocking is scheduled for 5:35 p.m. Eastern time. Watch the action on NASA TV.