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Astronauts get call from Italy's president

This image provided by NASA television shows the crews of the space shuttle Endeavour, in black shirts, and the International Space Station's Expedition 27 wave goodbye after speaking with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican Saturday May 21, 2011. (NASA)

May 23, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station got a call from Italy's president on Monday, the second VIP call from Rome.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano spoke with two Italian astronauts, Paolo Nespoli and Roberto Vittori.

"We're the country of poets, travelers and discoverers, and we must continue to do these things, and these are the things that make us grow." Nespoli said in Italian.

The president asked Nespoli - who's ending a five-month stay at the International Space Station - whether he could see the gondalas and Grand Canal of Venice. "Or is that a little too much to ask?" he wondered.

Nespoli said by using a zoom lens, he could see ferries, but no gondalas. He spoke of the breathtaking views of Earth seen from the space station's Italian-made cupola, or glassed-in lookout: the Egyptian pyramids, Great Wall of China, Venice, Mount Vesuvius.

"But also from another side it looks fragile," Nespoli said, describing the thin layer of atmosphere.

The pope had called the crew on Saturday.

Nespoli, an American and a Russian are expected to return to earth on Monday in their Russian Soyuz capsule. The rest of the space shuttle Endeavour crew will remain at the space station for another week.

Astronauts completed their second of four planned spacewalks on Sunday by topping off the station's leaking coolant system.

The shuttle is scheduled to land on June 1.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.