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While space tourism needs regulations, a Jesuit astronomer is ready to go

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VATICAN CITY — With private companies planning to expand their offerings in orbital and suborbital space tourism and more and more civilians already shooting into space, one Jesuit astronomer said if he were ever offered the possibility, he would go.

"I know enough to never say no to an opportunity," U.S. Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, a planetary astronomer and director of the Vatican Observatory, told Vatican News July 29.

"If God opens a door he's wanting me to rush through it," he said.

"I'm a very timid person in many ways, but I had the chance 25 years ago to go to Antarctica to collect some of these meteorites and it was not easy, but it's an adventure I would never have regretted doing," he recalled.

However, one problem with expanding space travel is the current lack of regulation, he said.

Laws are needed "to be sure that we don't get in each other's way, that our satellites don't run into each other and create havoc for everyone," he said.

Setting up regulations that everyone can agree upon "hasn't happened yet, so there's still a lot to be done before I feel it would be safe for the ordinary person to buy a ticket and go into space," he added.

The enormously high ticket price — one seat can cost millions or tens of millions of dollars — has drawn criticism that the money should be used for helping the poor.

Brother Consolmagno agreed there is some merit to that criticism as well as "to saying that these billionaires are arrogant and quite irritating people. Of course, if you read Scripture you realize that King David could be pretty irritating at times, too."

"This comes with the territory of being someone who does new and exciting things and often can get wrapped up in their own self-worth," he said.

However, "we are more than just animals that need to eat. We also need to feed our souls," and no human being should be denied "a chance to explore and to satisfy that curiosity about 'Who am I?' and 'Where did I come from?' and 'How am I in a relationship with this creation?'" he said.

"After all, you look at the seven days of creation in Scripture and while the first six are all about making sure there is a planet we can live on, the ultimate goal of creation is the Sabbath, the day that we spend contemplating God and God's creation," said Brother Consolmagno.

"We are called to feed the poor so that the poor have the chance to also be able to contemplate creation whether it's through science or through art," he said.

For now, every single human being has the possibility to contemplate and be amazed by the cosmos, he said.

"Whether you get into a spaceship or not (people) can at least go outside at night and take a look at the stars, take a look at the moon and just spend a few moments remembering that the world is bigger than whatever my day-to-day worries might be," he said.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021