by SARAH ROBERTS
When NASA astronaut Colonel Michael Hopkins was looking back to earth from space he knew a higher power had something to do with creating all natural beauty he saw.
Colonel Hopkins thoughts often wandered back to Genesis chapter one while gazing out the windows on-board the International Space Station (ISS).
“It’s a good vantage point and you see all the natural beauty that exists. When I was in space it was a time I really started to understand that chapter of the Bible,” he said.
Colonel Hopkins’ first and so far only mission into space was in September, 2013.
He shared his story at the 25th Eucharistic Convention, held at Netball North Harbour on Auckland’s North Shore.
Hopkins, who is Catholic, spent many hours in the ISS’s Cupola, a small module with seven windows that gives a panoramic view back to Earth. It was there he would often pray and give himself Communion.
The astronaut carried a pyx with six consecrated hosts, broken into four pieces each, into space to consume while aboard the International Space Station.
It was sufficient so that he could take Communion once a week for the 24 weeks he was aboard.
At times he would take Communion before doing a task, like a spacewalk. Colonel Hopkins completed two spacewalks to change out a pump module.
“As you can imagine it was a very stressful time in my life and there are many times on board you can worry [about],” Colonel Hopkins said.
“One of my personal challenges is trusting my faith. When taking Communion I know Jesus is with me and I have nothing to fear. I have my faith and if anything happens to me either way I am taken care of by God.”
“I called on God many times while in space, more so than on earth. It sounds terrible, but I think it’s the situation you are in at the time.”
Colonel Hopkins was given special permission by the archdiocese of Galveston-Houston to take the Communion hosts into space.
Colonel Hopkins, 49, grew up on a farm outside Richland, Missouri, in the United States. He wanted to be a cowboy and later a truck driver. He was raised in a Methodist family, but married his Catholic wife Julie.
Together they raised their two sons, Ryan, 19, and Lucas, 16, as Catholics. Colonel Hopkins didn’t think he wanted to become a Catholic for a long time. His reasons were that he already had a relationship with God and didn’t need it confirming.
“Things in my life were going good. I had my wife and kids and I had just been invited to go into space but I still felt like something was missing in my life. That’s when I told my wife I wanted to become Catholic — she was shocked,” he said.
Colonel Hopkins decided to become a Catholic Fr James Kucynski from Mary Queen Catholic Church in Friendswood, Texas, helped him complete the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults classes and become Catholic.
Practising one’s faith in space is not unusual.
In 1994, astronauts Sid Gutierrez, Thomas Jones and Kevin Chilton, a minister of Holy Communion, celebrated a Communion service on the shuttle flight deck 125 miles above the Pacific Ocean.
But it is more unusual to administer Communion to oneself. Colonel Hopkins had to learn how to do this.
Buzz Aldrin, on July 20, 1969, celebrated a Communion service for himself after landing on the moon.
Colonel Hopkins spoke twice at the Eucharistic Convention to children and adults. Children learned the ways in which daily tasks in space are different from how they are done on earth. Colonel Hopkins shared his religious journey in latter session with the adults.
“God has a plan for you and you never know where that plan may take you. Enjoy the ride. I didn’t ever envision being in New Zealand sharing my faith,” Colonel Hopkins said.
“For me opening up about my faith, something I find a very private, is far harder than any spacewalk.”
Colonel Hopkins spent a week in New Zealand and travelled to schools and retirement villages throughout the country.
He hopes to be called up for another mission into space within a couple of years.