Pope Francis phoning space station Thursday

Pope Francis phoning space station Thursday

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - The Associated Press

Pope Francis is making his first phone call off the planet - and into space.

On Thursday, the pope will reach out to the six astronauts on the International Space Station. It will be only the second time a pope phones the heavens like this. Pope Benedict XVI called the space station in 2011.

Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli was aboard the orbiting lab for the first papal call, and he's back up there again, along with three Americans and two Russians.

Francis is known for his out-of-the-blue calls. But this one has been in the Earth-to-space pipeline for a while. The European Space Agency made the arrangements, with NASA's technical support.

A large Roman Catholic contingent will gather at Mission Control in Houston for the long-distance chat.