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Edgar Dean Mitchell

David Jay Brown

Edgar Dean Mitchell

Edgar Dean Mitchell-the lunar module pilot for NASA’s Apollo 14 space mission in 1971-was the sixth man to walk on the moon. In addition to his historical achievements as an astronaut, naval officer, and test pilot, Dr. Mitchell has also made important contributions as a research scientist, author and lecturer. After retiring from the U.S. Navy and the Astronaut Program in 1972, Dr. Mitchell’s research interests shifted from exploring the far reaches of outer space to the frontiers of inner space. He has spent the last 30 years studying human consciousness in search of a common ground between science and spirit. Dr. Mitchell founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences in 1973 to sponsor systematic research into of the nature of consciousness, especially in regard to how it relates to psychic phenomena and alternative healing techniques. The institute has since grown into one of the world’s largest research groups studying the unexplained powers of the mind. 

Dr. Mitchell attended primary schools in Roswell, New Mexico, and is a graduate of Artesia High School in New Mexico. (As a child, there were strangely synchronistic foreshadowings of Mitchell’s career as a space traveler. As he walked to a country school near Roswell, Mitchell sometimes saw the little farmhouse where Robert Goddard, the godfather of modern rocketry, lived. Then, around the time that Mitchell was a senior in high school, Roswell became a household word as the site of an alleged crash of an alien spacecraft.) In 1952 Mitchell received a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Management from the Carnegie Institute of Technology, and he entered the Navy that same year, completing his basic training in San Diego. In 1953 he completed his instruction at the Officers’ Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island, and a year later he completed his flight training in Hutchinson, Kansas. From 1954 to 1958 he flew a P2V aircraft in Korean war, then a A-3 aircraft from the aircraft carriers Bon Homme Richard and the Ticonderoga while assigned to “Heavy Attack Squadron Two” at the end of the war. He was a research project pilot with “Air Development Squadron Five” until 1959.

Dr. Mitchell received another Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in 1961, and he took his Sc. D. in Aeronautics and Astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1964. In addition, he has received honorary doctorates in engineering from New Mexico State University, the University of Akron, Carnegie-Mellon University, and a Sc.D. from Embry-Riddle University. From 1964 to 1965 he was in charge of the Project Management Division of the Navy Field Office for Manned Orbiting Laboratory. Dr. Mitchell was in a group selected for astronaut training in April 1966. He served as a member of the astronaut support crew for Apollo 9 and as backup lunar module pilot for Apollo 10. 

Dr. Mitchell was originally scheduled for the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission, where an explosion exposed most of the inside of the service module to space, and had to be guided, using the power of the Lunar Module, back to Earth, forcing NASA to abort that mission to the moon. Dr. Mitchell completed his first space flight as lunar module pilot on Apollo 14, which was NASA’s third manned lunar landing. This historic journey began on January 31, 1971 and ended nine days later on February 9.

After landing the lunar module “Antares” on a hilly upland region of the moon, Dr. Mitchell and Commander Alan Shepard subsequently deployed and activated various scientific equipment and performed a number of experiments. In addition to collecting almost 100 pounds of lunar samples for return to Earth, they made a number of first-time achievements on the mission. They were the first to use a unpowered wheeled lunar vehicle called the Mobile Equipment Transporter. They carried the largest payload placed in lunar orbit, and the largest payload returned from the lunar surface at that time (later missions did more). They transversed the longest distance  on foot (ever) on the lunar surface, and stayed on the lunar surface for the longest amount of time-33 hours. 

After successfully completing his mission on the Moon, Dr. Mitchell had an experience on his journey home that was to forever change the course of his life. As he was hurtled through the abyss of space, back toward our tiny blue and white world, Dr. Mitchell became engulfed by a profound and overwhelming sensation that he describes as “a sense of universal connectedness…” where he “…suddenly experienced the universe as intelligent, loving, harmonious.” In other words, Dr. Mitchell had a classic mystical experience. As a result of this transcendental experience in space, when Dr. Mitchell returned to Earth he began devoting his life to the study of consciousness. This was one of the reasons that he founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences in 1973. (However, Dr. Mitchell had been interested in psychic phenomena prior to his mystical experience in space. Prior to the Apollo 14 mission, he had privately arranged to conduct secret ESP experiments with several colleagues on Earth during the space flight, with intriguing results.)

In completing his first space flight, Mitchell logged a total of 216 hours and 42 minutes in space, and he was subsequently designated to serve as backup lunar module pilot for Apollo 16. In his career as an astronaut, Dr. Mitchell has received many distinguished awards and honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1970), the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, the MSC Superior Achievement Award (1970), the Navy Astronaut Wings, the navy Distinguished Service medal, the City of New York Gold Medal (1971), the Arnold Air Society’s John F. Kennedy Award (1971), the USN Distinguished Medal and three NASA Group Achievement Awards. He was inducted to the Space Hall of Fame in Las Cruces NM in 1979, and the Astronaut Hall of Fame in Titusville, FL in 1997. In 1984, he was a cofounder of the Association of Space Explorers, an international organization of those who have experienced space travel.

Dr. Mitchell is the co-author of Psychic Exploration: A Challenge for Science (1974) and The Way of the Explorer (1996, revised 2001) as well as dozens of articles in both professional and popular publications. He delivers between 25 and 50 lectures a year on cosmology, human potential, and the future evolution of life on Earth. He is a frequent guest on radio and television talk shows, and has been featured in several documentary films. To find out more about his work with the Institute of Noetic Sciences visit:, or his own website

I interviewed Edgar on March 23, 2004. He was 73 at the time of this interview. I watched Edgar walk on the moon when I was a child with excitement and awe, so it was an incredible thrill for me to be able to spend this time talking with him. I found him to be thoughtful, generous, and regal in spirit. I greatly appreciated Edgar’s patience in answering questions that I’m sure he’s answered a thousand times before. His stories held me spellbound, and I sat in rapt astonishment, hanging on every word, as he poetically described his mystical experience in space to me. We spoke about the possible relationship between gravity and consciousness, how different altered states of consciousness compare with his mystical experience in space, and the frontiers of quantum physics, Chaos Theory, and research into psychic phenomena.


David: What were you like as a child, and what inspired you to become an astronaut?

Edgar: As I child I was rather precocious. I was raised on my family farms and ranches, working like any other kid with his dad. Growing up on a farm I did all the things that farm kids do. I don’t really think that I realized it at the time-although perhaps my parents did-but I would be able to be at the top of my class. And I continually was, once I started going to school, but it didn’t seem like anything different to me. I was just being a kid.

Now, as far as getting interested in the space program, that really didn’t happen until I was in the Navy during the Korean war. I went into military service for the Korean war. I also would have been drafted, and was serving my tour. I was a pilot aboard a carrier headed back for shore duty, as a test pilot, when Sputnik went up in October, 1957. And although I hadn’t planned a military career, that sounded like a pretty interesting thing to do. So, even though there weren’t astronauts at that time, I set my cap at that

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