An Amazing Day with the Pope during Holy Week

I was at a Maxar company event in Denver on February 27 when I received an invitation to participate at a seminar by Simonetta Di Pippo, the Director of United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA). The seminar involved 25 leaders and representatives of institutions and academia who had recently renewed their cooperation agreements with UNOOSA. The title, location and date of the invitation intrigued me: Exploration and Development of Space Opportunities and Issues in the Context of the Sustainable Development Goals at the Specola Vaticana during Holy Week. I didn’t know if it would happen, but I thought it would be neat if our group would have the opportunity to meet the Pope. In preparation, although there was no guarantee of an audience, we at DigitalGlobe printed a framed WorldView-4 image collected over Saint Peter’s Square on December 25th, 2017 – as a gift to be given by Simonetta to the Pope, should the rare opportunity present itself.

During the seminar, the delegation received confirmation that we would have the chance of a lifetime: meet personally with His Holiness Pope Francis during the General Audience of the Holy Week. During our meeting, Simonetta gave Pope Francis our image, which he appreciated. He was impressed by our ability to collect an image of the square when it was so crowded on Christmas Day.

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Simonetta Di Pippo of UNOOSA presents DigitalGlobe’s WorldView-4 image of Saint Peter’s Square
to His Holiness Pope Francis with the delegation looking on.

It was an amazing day, one of those days I won’t ever forget.

During the meeting portion of the seminar, I had the opportunity to present how DigitaGlobe and Maxar Technologies provide support to humanitarian crises around the world and talk about DigitalGlobe’s purpose of “Seeing a Better World.” I gave the seminar attendees an overview of how DigitalGlobe and Maxar successfully balance our business goals as public company with doing “the right thing” supporting Global Development Organizations (GDOs) and government initiatives around the world. I discussed the European Space Agency’s new initiatives around helping the world with Josef Aschbacher, the ESA Director of Earth Observation. Maria Zuber, Vice President of Research at MIT and Chair of the National Science Board, and I chatted about DigitalGlobe’s university and educational outreach, as well as investments to expand the adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning solutions leveraging geospatial information and imagery.

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While most of us can only dream about being an astronaut, I had the opportunity to meet two of them,
Paolo Nespoli (far right in the photo) and Nicole Stott (far left in the photo). They each spent more than 100 days
aboard the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station. They both mentioned how fragile our planet
looked from space and how monitoring and observation from space is more important today than it’s ever been and the need to protect it. Second from the right is Remo Ruffini, President of the International Centre
for Relativistic Astrophysics (ICRA).
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It’s a little known fact outside the astronomy world that The Vatican has two space observatories. The Specola Vaticana is in Rome and the other, called Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT), is located at the Mount Graham International Observatory (MGIO) in Arizona. Walking around the Specola Vaticana, you can hear about history from Brother Guy Consolmagno, the director of the Vatican Observatory, and look at the incredible collection of books and meteorites. If you are planning a trip to Rome, look into visiting the Specola and meeting Brother Guy for yourself. It is a unique place to visit outside the standard tourism locations in Rome.

Andrea BersanAndrea Bersan is DigitalGlobe’s Vice President of Global Industry Business Development. He focuses on developing and sharing specific expertise in key industry markets, identifying early stage opportunities and defining mid-to-long term strategies for DigitalGlobe’s Commercial business. Andrea has worked for DigitalGlobe since 2005.