To Boldly Go With Jesus: Catholic Astronaut Describes His Mission To Take Communion In Space


An astronaut who recently converted to Catholicism has described his successful attempt to receive the Eucharist in space.

Mike Hopkins, who spent six months on the International Space Station (ISS) in 2013, had been received into the Church less than a year before his mission.

The astronaut, whose wife and children are Catholic, told The National Catholic Register of his conversion and his subsequent aim to receive Communion while on his mission after sensing that something was 'missing'.

After being assigned to the ISS in 2011, he said, 'Everything was good, but, for me personally, I felt like something was missing.'

Hopkins added: 'It was hard to put my finger on it, but I eventually decided that "I think maybe I need to become Catholic. I want to participate more in my family's — my wife and my kids' — religious life."...I was able to get confirmed in the Catholic Church in December 2012, and I was launching in September 2013.'

Hopkins described devising a way of taking Communion with him into space. 'Once I got confirmed though, I have to admit, I still wasn't quite satisfied — because I knew I was going to be gone [in space] for six months,' he said. 'So I started asking the question, "Is there any chance I can take the Eucharist up with me into space?" Which isn't something that, you know, is normally done, since you don't self-administer Communion.'

Several priest friends conferred 'and I was able to take a small pyx [a small container used by Catholics to carry the host] up with me that had six wafers divided into four each, so I had 24 opportunities to receive Communion on orbit. They were able to work it all out with the church; and so, the weekend before I left for Russia — we launch on a Russian rocket from Kazakhstan — I went to Mass one last time, and [the priest] consecrated the wafers into the Body of Christ, and I was able to take the pyx with me.'

Hopkins continued: 'I was able to take the Eucharist up — and I was able to have Communion, basically, every week. There were a couple of times when I received Communion on, I'll say, special occasions: I did two spacewalks; so on the morning of both of those days, when I went out for the spacewalk, I had Communion.

'It was really helpful for me to know that Jesus was with me when I went out the hatch into the vacuum of space. And then I received my last Communion on my last day on orbit in the "Cupola," which is this large window that looks down at the Earth, and that was a very special moment before I came home.'

The astronaut said that NASA has been 'great' in response to Hopkins's conversion and desire to take the Eucharist into space.

'NASA has been great. ... They didn't have any reservations about me taking the Eucharist up or to practicing my faith on orbit,' he said. 'Of course, I'm there with a job to do, and I have to do that, but there was no interference. There are quite a few astronauts who are very religious. We are practicing our faith. We're not silent about that.'

Asked whether being an astronaut helps his faith, Hopkins replied: 'It does. When I receive Communion ... it's one of these things that puts things in perspective for me. When you're in orbit, and you're getting ready to go out on a spacewalk, from an emotional standpoint, you can be very nervous. You can be afraid, if you will.

'So it helped strengthen my faith, because when I was able to receive the Host and realize that if my faith is strong, I have nothing to be afraid of ... that helped. Having that constant reminder when I was on the ISS — things can go wrong in a hurry up there, and the consequences can be quite bad — [I had] my faith, and that constant leaning on Jesus, and realizing that he's in control, that I'm not in control of this. So when you're sitting on that rocket getting ready to launch, you say a prayer and get the job done.'

Hopkins added that heaven is different from space, which has become an 'artificial environment'. He said: 'When I think of heaven, I don't think of being in space, because I've been there, and I know what it's like. And there's a lot of it that is like life down here. We've created this artificial environment up there. We've built the ISS. It is man-made. It has all of the same kinds of things we have down here on Earth. You have exercise equipment. You have food. You have ways to prepare that food. You have the means of getting rid of the waste. You have science. You get up there, and it's very real. When I think of heaven, I have no idea what that is going to be like.'