Skip to main content
Select Source:

Edgar Dean Mitchell

Edgar Dean Mitchell

Edgar Dean Mitchell (born 1930) became the sixth person to walk on the surface of the moon during the third manned moon mission, Apollo 14. With him on the surface was Alan B. Shepard, who had made history in 1961 as the first American in space. The two landed on the moon aboard Apollo 14 's lunar module Antares in February 1971, while crewmate Stuart A. Roosa orbited the moon aboard the mission's command module Kitty Hawk.

Born in Hereford, Texas, on September 17, 1930, Edgar Dean Mitchell grew up in the southwest, attending elementary school in Roswell, New Mexico, a town that would later become famous for its UFO sightings. His father was a rancher, his mother a fundamentalist Baptist. Mitchell learned to fly an airplane when he was just 13 years old, even before attending high school in Artesia, New Mexico. Artesia, where he spent his teenage years, was the city he thereafter considered his hometown.

After high school Mitchell went on to the Carnegie Institute of Technology, graduating in 1952 with a bachelor of science degree in industrial management. Next, he attended the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, from which he graduated in 1961 with another B.S., this one in aeronautical engineering. He completed his academic career in 1964 when he received a doctorate of science degree in aeronautics/astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Began Military Career

Mitchell joined the U.S. Navy in 1952 and went through basic training at the San Diego Recruit Depot. He was commissioned as an ensign after graduating from the Officers Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island. After completing flight training at Hutchinson, Kansas, in 1954, he joined Patrol Squadron 29 and was sent to Okinawa, Japan. In 1957 Mitchell was assigned to Heavy Attack Squadron Two operating on the aircraft carriers USS Bon Homme Richard and USS Ticonderoga. Afterwards, he became a test pilot for Air Development Squadron Five, which he served until 1959. Between 1964 and 1965 he was part of the Navy's Manned Orbiting Laboratory program as head of the project management division. When this program stalled, he left it to join the astronaut corps.

Mitchell had to follow a long, hard career path in order to become an astronaut. As he recalled to Eric M. Jones for the online Apollo Lunar Surface Journal, "I'd applied at every opportunity from 1958 on. But my jet hours weren't enough, since I'd started out in props. … Building up my jet hours … and then getting my test pilot credentials … took me until I was 36. It took me damn near nine years to get all the qualifications … in order to be selected."

Made the Cut to Astronaut

Selected as one of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA's) fifth group of astronauts in 1966, Mitchell joined Project "Apollo," America's manned moon landing program. He worked on the Apollo 9 mission as a member of the astronaut support crew while the mission test-flew the lunar module designed to land astronauts on the moon in low Earth orbit. He then became backup lunar module pilot for the Apollo 10 mission, a dress-rehearsal for the first moon landing in which astronauts Gene Cernan and Tom Stafford descended to within 50,000 feet of the lunar surface.

A member of the lunar module design team, Mitchell was an expert on lunar module systems. In 1970, when Apollo 13 suffered an onboard explosion that ruined the mission and nearly killed its crew, he was called on as an advisor in the effort that got the astronauts home safely. As he later told Jones, "During the Apollo 13 experience, where Fred and Jim had to bring their lunar module back as a lifeboat, I spent the five days of that emergency in the lunar module simulator, creating the procedures they had to use. And radioing them up to them in space."

Joined Alan Shepard for a Trip to the Moon

Mitchell got his chance to go to the moon himself in 1971. His ship was Apollo 14, and along for his ride were Alan B. Shepard, commander, and Stuart A. Roosa, command module pilot. Mitchell and Shepard were to land on the moon in Apollo 14's lunar module Antares, while Roosa orbited the moon aboard the ship's command module Kitty Hawk. The mission, Mitchell's only trip into space, was the second trip for Shepard, who had previous been aboard the one-man Mercury capsule, Freedom 7. That flight had lasted just 15 minutes, not even reaching Earth orbit, and Shepard was eager to return to space. Unfortunately fate intervened in the form of an inner ear disorder known as Meniere's syndrome, which affected Shepard's balance and took him off active flight status. However, he wasted no time in becoming one of two astronauts in charge of crew selection at NASA, and after an experimental surgical procedure cured his affliction, he got himself assigned to the Apollo 14 crew.

Two major glitches marred an otherwise perfect flight. On the way out to the moon, just two hours after leaving Earth's orbit, the command module failed to dock to the lunar module. This was an essential procedure, and a landing could not be accomplished without it. Four attempts failed to engage the docking mechanism, and the two spacecrafts simply bounced off each other without connecting. Just when it seemed the mission might be lost, controllers in Houston radioed up a plan that might work: use the command module's thrusters to hold the two spacecraft together while Shepard threw a switch to retract a docking probe. The plan worked.

During his first sleep period in space, and every other sleep period during the mission, Mitchell conducted a secret procedure of his own. Long interested in the untapped potential of the human mind, he had arranged an extra sensory perception (ESP) experiment with collaborators on Earth. According to plan, Mitchell waited until 45 minutes past the start of sleep time on the ship and then concentrated on a series of symbols and shapes printed on a clipboard. Four men on Earth tried to "receive" in their minds the shapes that Mitchell concentrated on.

The second major glitch of the mission occurred as Antares headed down from lunar orbit to the moon's surface. At 30,000 feet, the landing radar refused to engage as it was supposed to. As Mitchell later told Jones, "When it didn't come in by 30 thousand, we got alarmed. And at 20 thousand feet, that's when we were frantically trying to get it to come in because, at 10 thousand feet, there was automatic (meaning 'mandatory') abort without landing radar." If the landing radar did not come on, mission rules stated that the astronauts would have to abort the mission and return to lunar orbit without ever setting foot on the moon. Fortunately, all it took was simply turning the radar off and then on again to get it to engage, and the mission proceeded as planned.

On February 5, 1971, Mitchell and Shepard touched down to a feather-light landing in the highlands of the moon's Fra Mauro region. The mission set a record for longest time spent on the surface (33 hours), longest time spend on the moon outside of a spacecraft (more than 9 hours in two excursions), and the most lunar sample material returned from Earth (some 100 pounds). The mission also marked the first use of a color television camera for transmitting video back to Earth.

Continued to Promote Space Exploration

After serving as backup lunar module pilot for the Apollo 16 mission, Mitchell retired from NASA in 1972. He founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences in 1973 to "expand knowledge of the nature and potentials of the mind and spirit, and to apply that knowledge to advance health and well-being for humanity and our planet," according to the institute's Web site. From 1974 to 1978 he headed the Edgar Mitchell Corporation, based in Palm Beach, Florida, and later became head of Mitchell Communications. In 1996 Mitchell published a book about the consciousness-expanding aspects of his moon voyage titled The Way of the Explorer.

Books

Chaikin, Andrew, A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts, Penguin, 1994.

Online

Apollo Lunar Surface Journal,http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/History/ (November 14, 2001).

Astronaut Hall of Fame Web site,http://www.astronauts.org/(November 13, 2001).

Institute of Noetic Sciences Web site,http://www.noetic.org/ (November 14, 2001).

Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center Web site,http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/ (November 13, 2001). □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Edgar Dean Mitchell." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 28 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Edgar Dean Mitchell." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 28, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/edgar-dean-mitchell

"Edgar Dean Mitchell." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved June 28, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/edgar-dean-mitchell

Mitchell, Edgar D. (1930-)

Mitchell, Edgar D. (1930-)

American astronaut with an active interest in parapsychology. Born September 17, 1930, at Hereford, Texas, he was educated at the Carnegie Institute of Technology. He entered the U.S. Navy in 1952 and was commissioned a year later. After flight training, he was assigned to Patrol Squadron 29 in Okinawa and flew aircraft on carrier duty and with a heavy attack squadron.

He studied for his doctorate in aeronautics and astronautics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and became chief of the project management division of the Navy Field Office for Manned Orbiting Laboratory (1964). He later attended Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot School. He was selected by NASA as an astronaut in April 1966 and was lunar module pilot of Apollo 14, which landed on the moon February 5, 1971.

His interest in parapsychology dated from 1967, soon after his arrival at the NASA Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston. He was dissatisfied with orthodox theology and began to investigate areas of psychic phenomena and mysticism. In December 1969 Mitchell became friendly with medium Arthur Ford, who suggested an interesting ESP test from a man in a rocket to a contact on earth.

Mitchell planned a rocket-to-earth ESP test for the Apollo 14 mission, although Ford died January 4, 1971, 27 days before the mission launch (to which he had been invited as Mitchell's guest). NASA had rejected a telepathy experiment planned by the American Society for Psychical Research in 1970, so Mitchell's test was a private affair in his own rest periods. The tests involved the transmission of symbols associated with a range of chosen numbers. Eminent parapsychologists J. B. Rhine of the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man and Karlis Osis of the ASPR offered cooperation in evaluating the test. The results of the test were ambiguous.

After being the sixth man to walk on the moon, Mitchell was a member of the backup crew of further lunar probes. He retired from NASA and the navy in 1972. His second wife, Anita, whom Mitchell married in 1973 after a divorce, shared his interest in parapsychology. In the same year Mitchell founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences for the study of human consciousness and mind/body relationships. He has headed the institute ever since.

Among the projects supported by the institute were the efforts of Andrija Puharich to test Uri Geller, and supervised experiments with Geller at Stanford Research Institute.

Sources:

Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York: Paragon House, 1991.

Mitchell, E. D., ed. Psychic Exploration: A Challenge for Science. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1974.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Mitchell, Edgar D. (1930-)." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. . Encyclopedia.com. 28 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Mitchell, Edgar D. (1930-)." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 28, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mitchell-edgar-d-1930

"Mitchell, Edgar D. (1930-)." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. . Retrieved June 28, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mitchell-edgar-d-1930