On the International Space Station there's a place, while filled with robotic equipment, where astronauts like to hang out. Called the Cupola, the small module has seven large bay windows that give crew members a panoramic view of Earth.
- Catholic News Service
On his first - and thus far only - mission into space in September 2013, astronaut Mike Hopkins was eager to find the Cupola. What he saw he found amazing.
"When you see the Earth from that vantage point and see all the natural beauty that exists, it's hard not to sit there and realize there has to be a higher power that has made this," said Colonel Hopkins, who is Catholic.
It was in the Cupola that he found himself praying and at times taking Communion.
Under a special arrangement with the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and with the help of Fr James Kuczynski, pastor of Mary Queen Catholic Church in Friendswood, Texas, Colonel Hopkins' parish, the rookie astronaut carried a pyx with six consecrated hosts broken into four pieces.
It was enough so that he could take Communion once a week for the 24 weeks he was aboard the ISS.
"It was extremely, extremely important to me," said Colonel Hopkins, now 47, who grew up on a farm outside of Richland, Missouri, in a United Methodist family but completed Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults classes and became Catholic just before going into space.
He said he wanted to become Catholic not just because his wife and two teenage sons were Catholic but because "I felt something was missing in my life."
Colonel Hopkins completed two spacewalks to change out a pump module with fellow spacefarer Rick Mastracchio. Before exiting the ISS, he took Communion as well.
"Those events can be stressful events," he told Catholic News Service from his office in Houston. "Knowing Jesus was with me when I stepped out the door into the vacuum of space was important to me."
Photo: Astronaut Mike Hopkins in the International Space Station's Kibo laboratory in November 2013 (CNS/NASA)