PALM BEACH POST INTERVIEWS EX-ASTRONAUT DR EDGAR MITCHELL / MITCHELL WEIGHS IN ON VARIOUS CONTROVERSIAL MATTERS / EX-ASTRONAUT’S CURIOSITY CONTINUES -
By Eliot Kleinberg, Palm Beach Post
Sunday, February 8, 2004
Somewhere in deep space, Ed Mitchell experienced a cosmic awakening that changed his life.
“I got to look out the window a lot,” he recalled about his return trip from the moon 33 years ago this week. “I had a powerful insight looking at the heavens. Suddenly, it became damn personal.”
Since then, he has founded an institute to study the unexplained, has written two books and keeps busy on the lecture circuit. He asserts that very many people are like him: questioning, challenging, keeping an open mind about the unexplained. This is fact about Edgar Dean Mitchell. He has a doctorate. He served 20 years in the Navy. He helped rescue the crippled Apollo 13 in 1970. And on Feb. 5, 1971, he became the sixth man to walk on the moon.
While many of his fellow 1960s “right stuff” astronauts lead quiet, sometimes reclusive lives, Mitchell, 73, stays in the public eye. But he fiercely protects his home life on a spread hidden among the nurseries west of Lantana, scattered with pine trees and boasting its own corral and pond. Developers have come knocking, but he’s not interested.
His sprawling ranch house is cluttered with books, sculptures and paintings, as well as photos, plaques and memorabilia of his NASA career. Also on one wall: A Kurdish tapestry he bought in Turkey in 1982 while on a scientific mission to find documents and artifacts of the Nestorians, an ancient Christian sect. It symbolizes his life: always
Ed Mitchell was on a Navy ship in the Pacific Ocean in 1957 when the Soviets shocked the world by flinging Sputnik into space, beating the Americans and starting the space race. He decided then, at age 27, that he wanted to be a part of the fledgling U.S. space program.
“I knew at that point that humans wouldn’t be far behind,” he said. “My motivation was like the bear that went over the mountain: to see what he could see.”
Born in the Depression era in west Texas, he grew up on a ranch in Artesia, N.M. As he walked to school in nearby Roswell, he sometimes saw Robert Goddard, the godfather of modern rocketry, launching rockets into the sky. Around the time Mitchell was a senior in high school, Roswell became a household word as the site of an alleged crash of an alien spacecraft.
He started flying at age 13 and got his pilot’s license at 16. After college, he enlisted in the Navy and flew combat missions in Korea. He earned two undergraduate degrees as well as a DOCTORATE FROM MIT; his THESIS DESCRIBED A MISSION TO MARS.
Mitchell joined the astronaut corps in 1966. A year later, three of his colleagues were vaporized in a fire on the launch pad aboard Apollo 1. “It was a risky business and we knew it,” he said. Then he stops. His voice grows thick. “You can’t lose your friends and not be affected.”
The space program continued and Mitchell eventually specialized in the lunar module. He was set for the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission, but crewmate Alan Shepherd, who’d been sidelined by inner-ear balance problems, needed more training. So his team — the third was command module pilot Stuart Roosa — was rescheduled for Apollo 14.
As in the dark days after the Columbia and Challenger shuttle disasters, missions were delayed more than a year by the Apollo 13 crisis. Mitchell said his Apollo 14 crew knew that if that mission was anything less than a spectacular success, NASA would have difficulty restoring public and government confidence in the space program. By the time Apollo 14 finally went up, budget cuts already had scrapped missions 18, 19 and 20, and everyone at NASA knew Apollo 17 would be the last — which it was.
Despite the years of preparation and anticipation, Mitchell said, “You suppress your exhilaration and emotion and go do the… job,” he said.
A REVELATION IN SPACE
Mitchell and Alan Shepard spent 33 1/2 hours on the moon. Shepherd hit the famous golf shot. Mitchell threw a javelin, which got less press.
His crewmates and NASA superiors didn’t know that Mitchell had MADE SECRET ARRANGEMENTS TO CONDUCT SPACE EXPERIMENTS on extrasensory
perception, the ability to send and receive thoughts. “I was well aware as far as science was concerned this was not mainstream,” he said.
Four times on the flight, he focused on sets of numbers. He’d alerted colleagues when he would be sending those thoughts. But the mission was delayed by 40 minutes, so each experiment occurred 40 minutes after it was supposed to. He found out later he’d been successful 35 of 400 times. He said that’s too many to attribute to chance.
After his return, one of the participants leaked the tests to the press. “I didn’t expect it to hit the news the way it did,” he said.
But it was ANOTHE EXPERIENCE HE’D HAD during his return voyage that CHANGED HIS LIFE. Mitchell wrote about it in his 1996 memoir, The Way of the Explorer: “What I experienced during that three-day trip home was nothing short of an OVERWHELMING SENSE OF UNIVERSAL CONNECTEDNESS. I actually felt what has been described as an ECSTASY OF UNITY.”
Mitchell wrote that he felt “a sense that our presence as space travelers, and the existence of the universe itself, was NOT ACCIDENTAL, but that there was AN INTELLIGENT PROCESS AT WORK. I perceived THE UNIVERSE AS IN SOME WAY CONSCIOUS.”
A year and a half later, in 1972, Mitchell left NASA and the Navy. The Apollo program was done, the shuttle was a decade away and “I didn’t want to fly a desk,” he said. The more he thought about the epiphany he’d had in space, the more he felt he had to do something with it.
“I had to find out. What’s it all about? It led me to think: What we in science are modeling is incomplete and possibly flawed. Let’s go find out.”
He began researching mystical literature, including that of the Hindu and Buddhist religions. There, he came across SAMADHI. The Sanskrit word refers to a STATE OF CONSCIOUSNESS AND TOTAL UNITY; an individualism but also a ONENESS. He found what he had experienced is discussed in virtually every culture and religion. Mitchell argues that ESP, clairvoyance — getting thoughts from nature — and other supposedly supernatural feats are WITHIN THE CAPABILITIES OF EVERY
“It would appear most of the so-called mystical and spiritual experiences these people have been having forever are PART OF THE QUANTUM PROPERTIES OF EVERY LIVING ORGANISM,” he said. So in January 1973 he founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences in California (noetic is from the Greek word for mind). The nonprofit
organization, which numbers among its members scientists, philosophers and religious scholars, explores the scientific foundations of psychic and spiritual events. He still serves as an adviser and sits on its board of directors.
His goal was to take such concepts out of the realm of the far-out and “bring them into scientific perspective.”
Even as Mitchell seeks spiritual peace, his personal life at times has been anything but peaceful.
Just before leaving NASA, Mitchell, in the middle of divorcing his first wife, Louise, met Anita Rettig, a publicist at Walt Disney World. They married in 1972 and he adopted her three children. Later, they moved to Palm Beach County, where Anita had friends. Mitchell hooked up with Generoso Pope, publisher of The National Enquirer and other tabloids based at the time in Lantana. Mitchell’s job was to coordinate with his connections in the psychic world. “It didn’t last too long,” he said.
Mitchell’s marriage to Anita ended in divorce in 1984 after he had an affair with Sheilah Ledbetter, a former Playboy model. Ledbetter filed a paternity suit against Mitchell which proved in 1986 that he had fathered a son with her. They married in 1989 and divorced 10 years later. For now, Mitchell lives off his naval pension, his book
royalties and his lectures. He also stays in touch with his colleagues.
“For 3,000 years, we’ve been asking: Who are we? How did we get here? Where are we going?” he said. “Space exploration is about that. And we’ll keep doing it.”
ED MITCHELL ON:
THE CHALLENGER AND COLUMBIA DISASTERS:
Over the last 20 years, NASA settled into workaday space missions: important, but not exciting. Ground the shuttle, after it’s finished building the International Space Station. But then, do new manned missions to explore the moon and Mars.
NASA THEN AND NOW:
“When I was working with NASA in the early 1960s, this was the most dedicated, driven, together, ‘Gonna do it,’ motivated team of people you’re ever going to encounter. That high motivation lasted up through the beginnings of the Apollo program… We weren’t ready scientifically yet to go out into deep space.
But we did it because it was a political imperative. And it worked. But once we’d done that, it’s, ‘Ho, hum, what have you done now?’ And by the early 1970s, when we were halfway through the lunar landings, the climate in NASA was becoming bureaucratic. I’ve said facetiously we had to fill out forms in triplicate just to go to the bathroom.”
PRESIDENT BUSH’S RECENT MARS MISSION PROPOSAL:
“I’m sure we will (go) in due course. I personally think this current initiative is an election year ploy. I don’t want to diminish the notion of going to the moon and Mars. It’s a powerful notion and we will do it sooner or later. The question is timing and motivation. The budget isn’t near what it’s going to take.” Also, must be an international effort “and we’re not anywhere close to doing it.”
LIFE ON OTHER PLANETS:
It would be far more IRrational to believe Earth is the ONLY SPOT in the universe with intelligent life. Life elsewhere in this solar system, now or ever? No. We know enough about those planets to make it highly unlikely they supported anything more sophisticated than the equivalent of algae.
WHETHER ALIENS HAVE VISITED EARTH:
Has no first-hand experience but is convinced.
Hostile? “Not that I’m aware.”
People who claim they were abducted by aliens? “Something has happened to them. The jury’s still out about what happened.” CAN’T dismiss one theory that aliens are collecting terrestrial DNA for research.
A GOVERNMENT COVER-UP OF UFOS:
“That’s putting it mildly. We’ve BEEN LIED TO AND COVERED UP. It was a military rationale 50 years ago. Now it’s a bureaucratic morass. I doubt if higher-ups even know what the right answers are.”
WHY a cover up at the beginning? “It would RATTLE OUR FOUNDATIONS.”
AREA 51, the secret military base in Nevada where scientists study crashed alien spacecraft and their crews: Was briefed, even recently, by “old timers” who were there, “but I can’t say by whom.”
The ROSWELL INCIDENT, in which aliens, some alive, were recovered after a July 1947 crash:
“IT WAS VALID. I’VE BEEN BRIEFED.”
ERICH VON DäNIKEN, whose many books theorize early Biblical passages and folk stories actually described visits by aliens:
“It’s pretty far out. There MAY BE A KERNEL OF TRUTH.”
Was mankind genetically engineered by other civilizations or originally immigrants from another planet? “I have not seen validation for that.”
WHETHER SPACE FLIGHT WILL EVER BE AS WORKADAY AS IN STAR TREK:
“It’s inevitable. Yes. By the end of this century. Out of our solar system. PROVIDED WE DON’T DESTROY OURSELVES.”
MORE ON EDGAR DEAN MITCHELL:
Born: Sept. 17, 1930, Hereford, Texas. Raised in Artesia, N.M.
Education: Bachelor of Science, Industrial Management, Carnegie Institute of Technology, 1952. Bachelor of Science, Aeronautical Engineering, U.S.
Naval Postgraduate School, 1961. Doctor of Science, Aeronautics and Astronautics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1964. Military:
U.S. Navy, 1952-1972.
NASA: 1966-1972. Lunar module commander, Apollo 14, Jan. 31-Feb. 9, 1971.
Feb. 5: became sixth of 12 men to walk on moon. Crewmates: commander Alan B. Shepard, Jr. (died 1998); command module pilot Stuart A. Roosa (died 1994).
Awards: Presidential Medal of Freedom, Navy Distinguished Medal, three NASA Group Achievement Awards. Inducted to Space Hall of Fame, 1979, Astronaut Hall of Fame, 1998. Founder, Institute of Noetic Sciences.
Co-founder, Association of Space Explorers. Author, Psychic Exploration, 1974; The Way of the Explorer, 1996 (revised 2001).
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