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Moonwalker explores inner space (part two)
by Andrew Chaikin, author A Man On The Moon

February 2, 2001


If you went to Edgar Mitchell's Florida home, you'd see plenty of reminders of the lunar explorations he and Alan Shepard made in February 1971. A hand controller from his lunar module Antares sits in a display case. Pictures from his Apollo 14 mission adorn the walls.

And the 70-year-old former astronaut says that even now, the memories of his lunar journey are still vivid. "It's still exciting to think about that climb up Cone Crater," he says, "and the landing, and all of the work we did on the surface."

But Mitchell says he doesn't dwell on his status as the sixth man to walk on the Moon. "I'm so busy doing other things," Mitchell says, "that unless people ask me about it, I really don't think too much about it."

For 30 years, Mitchell has been occupied with a different kind of exploration, one in which he is probing the secrets of human consciousness. The quest began not on the Moon's ancient, alien surface, but during the journey back to Earth. It was then, looking out at the Moon, the stars and his home planet in the black void of space that Mitchell had a profound change in awareness. He later wrote that he experienced "a sense of interconnectedness with the celestial bodies surrounding our spacecraft...I was overwhelmed with the sensation of physically and mentally extending out into the cosmos."

That experience, he says, drove him to a 30-year quest to understand what he had experienced. "What kind of a brain is this that allows you to look at the cosmos in that way and feel exhilarated? What are we that allows that sort of insight, that sort of 'Wow,' to take place? As a theoretician, and a questioning guy, I went after the answer."

Even before Mitchell made his lunar voyage, he had developed an interest in psychic phenomena. Unknown to NASA and his crew mates, he conducted an ESP experiment during the trip to and from the Moon in which he attempted to transmit his thoughts through space to a handful of test subjects on Earth. When the press got wind of the experiment shortly after Apollo 14's return, Mitchell was teased and sometimes ridiculed within and outside NASA, although a few of his colleagues quietly expressed their interest. Mitchell, however, says the experiment was a success.

And Mitchell has never let himself be stopped by what others might think about him. "I'm one of these guys," Mitchell says, "that if I happen to get a glimmer...that there's something in it for real, even though we may not know the answer, I'm a bulldog. And I'm bound and determined to get good solid evidence, and good theory, and good fact. And hang onto the wheat and throw away the chaff. But I don't mind wading in and looking at it. And I've done that for 30 years, because I knew I was onto something."

Two years after his Moon trip, Mitchell left NASA to found the Institute for Noetic Sciences in Palo Alto, California, for the study of consciousness. In this new role, he pursued such controversial subjects as the spoon-bending feats of self-proclaimed psychic Uri Gellar, and all manner of psychic phenomena.

More recently, by studying the work of researchers in a variety of disciplines, including quantum physics, Mitchell has helped to create a model for how the human mind interacts with the universe. It's based on an idea called a quantum hologram, in which information about things and events is recorded on a subatomic level -- a kind of quantum-physics version of Carl Jung's collective unconscious. Mitchell says the quantum hologram theory could explain a variety of phenomena, from ESP to the power of prayer. In doing so, he has challenged both mainstream science and religious teachings.

Mitchell has also stirred controversy by claiming that the U.S. government is covering up evidence of visits by extraterrestrials that took place decades ago -- evidence that he says would also explain many stories of alien encounters. "I always make this clear: I have no firsthand experience," Mitchell says, noting that his information has come from former government workers "who were there and were under oaths of secrecy, and many of them wanted to tell their story before they die...a group of pretty darn prestigious people -- a few from Washington, a few from academia, a few from Los Alamos -- who are dead serious about this." He adds, "I assure you, this [story] is going to break open. It's getting hotter and hotter...I won't say when, but certainly in the next 10 years. And it's pretty exciting."

If this sounds like too much to believe, then Mitchell knows that the idea of walking on the Moon seemed just as outlandish to many people before anyone did it. Looking back on his own Moon trip, he says, "it's just hard to believe that 30 years has gone by. I don't feel 70, but that's what the clock says."

Mitchell has no one to share the 30th anniversary of his flight; command module pilot Stu Roosa died in 1994 and mission commander Alan Shepard died four years later. Being the last surviving member of the Apollo 14 crew, he says, feels strange. "That makes me realize it was a long, long time ago. Being the only one left is a little bit disconcerting."

But when people ask him if he'd like to return to the Moon, Mitchell's answer shows he intends to stick around for at least another 30 years. "I say, 'Sure, but I'm gonna wait 'til I'm a hundred and beat John [Glenn's] record.'"

For now, Mitchell says he has no regrets. "I am probably, at this point in my life, as happy an individual as you can find. In the sense of content. I don't have real worries. I feel very comfortable with the path I've taken. Everything I've done has been, I believe, done with integrity. And I'm very happy with it."

Coming next: the golf shot heard around the world...


The preceding article first appeared on SPACE.com. It is reprinted with permission.

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