Vatican Observatory Director Hails 'Historical Achievement'

Welcomes Successful Landing of Mars Rover, Curiosity

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ROME, AUG. 7, 2012 (Zenit.org).- The director of the Vatican Observatory, Jesuit Father Jose Gabriel Funes, expressed excitement at the news of the successful landing of Curiosity, a rover launched by NASA in November 2011. The rover is set to embark on a two-year mission seeking evidence the Red Planet once hosted ingredients for life. 

In an interview with Vatican Radio, Fr. Funes welcomed the historical achievement. "I think everybody should be happy with the success of [the start of] this mission," he said. 

"We now have to wait for results, to see if we can learn more about Mars and the possibility of organic elements on the surface of Mars."

Mission controllers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, received signals relayed by a Martian orbiter confirming that the rover had survived a make-or-break descent and landing attempt to touch down as planned inside a vast impact crater.

The Curiosity rover is the first fully-fledged mobile science laboratory to be landed on the surface of the planet Mars. Curiosity is designed to hunt for soil-based signatures of life and send back data to prepare for a future human mission. 

When asked by Vatican Radio whether Catholics and believers in general have anything to fear -- either from the search for extraterrestrial life in particular or from scientific exploration in general, Fr. Funes responded, "No, of course not – we are not afraid of science, we are not afraid of new results, new discoveries."

The Director of the Vatican Observatory went on to explain that the Church is deeply committed to scientific research. "That’s the reason why the [Holy See] has an observatory," he said. "Whatever the truth might be, we are open to new results, once they are confirmed by the scientific community."