An Apollo astronaut's journey into inner space
In 1971 Edgar Mitchell walked on the moon as an Astronaut on Apollo 14, one of only twelve men to ever do so. He trained as an engineer and has a PhD in Aeronautics from MIT. As a US Navy fighter pilot he saw combat during the Korean War. On his return journey from the moon he had a profound spiritual experience that started him on a new journey.
By the time he splashed down in the Pacific, the scientist had met the mystical, and was intrigued. To better understand how these diverse human potentials related, he founded Institute of Noetic Science in California. He has since dedicated his life to developing a scientific understanding of that most ineffable human quality: consciousness.
Perhaps the two greatest questions that face mankind today are these: “is there a supreme being?” and “are we alone in the universe?” Speaking from his home in Florida in 2010, Dr. Edgar Mitchell offered his answers.
The sixth human being to have walked on the moon speaks with soft southern drawl:
“My great grandparents came across the southern United States in the 1870s to start a new life in the western territories. They were in a covered wagon drawn by horses, driving a few cattle to start a new herd. The railroads had not been completed, automobiles had not been invented; the electric light had not been invented. My father was born shortly after the Wright brothers made the first airplane flight - and I went to the moon…In less than a hundred years we went from covered wagons to going to the moon.”
OnJanuary 31, 1971, Edgar Mitchell and the crew of Apollo 14 blasted off from Cape Kennedy on board a giant Saturn 5 rocket. After the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission, the world watched anxiously as Apollo 14 sped toward the Moon on a scientific mission to explore the Fra Mauro highlands.
The man who splashed down back on Earth’s on February 9 was not the same as the one who had left Earth just days earlier: Captain Edgar J Mitchell, United States Navy fighter pilot, would become a pacifist. Dr Edgar Mitchell PhD, the hardened MIT and NASA-trained scientist would become a spiritual seeker, dedicated to using the tools of science to uncover the mysteries of human consciousness and spirituality.
Dr. Mitchell tells me that the experience which changed him so radically was not standing on the moon, but was a spiritual epiphany that occurred on the journey back to Earth. He describes this experience vividly in his autobiography, The Way of the Explorer:
“What I experienced during that three-day trip home was nothing short of an overwhelming sense of connectedness. I actually felt what is described as ‘the ecstasy of unity’. It occurred to me that the molecules my body and the molecules of the spacecraft itself were manufactured long ago in the furnace of one of the ancient stars that burned in the heavens about me. And there was a sense that our presence as space travellers, 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."
After leaving NASA in 1972 he founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences in California to explore the frontiers of inner space. This was the beginning of a new life’s journey for Dr Mitchell: Since then, his aim has been to find an understanding of the universe which encompasses both science and spirituality.
As he researched his spiritual experiences of “oneness,” he says, “I began to realise that this type of experience has taken place in every culture throughout history. In my opinion, this type of experience is the basis of all religion.”
“[Religions] begin with some type of transformational type experience like that… a mountaintop experience, which moves you from your normal way of thinking.…As a result of my experience, I think that the evolutionary path of humanity has to be away from violence and towards caring and oneness.” This “oneness” view of the entire universe as a single whole conscious entity, he says, “is also supported by the recent developments in quantum mechanics which shows interconnectedness or ‘quantum resonance’ as a very fundamental phenomenon in nature.”
He says that most anyone can have such a transformational experience, if they seek it: “the time-honoured way is through traditional meditation techniques, where the mind is stabilised and cleared. That seems to open the way for the transformation-type experiences to take place. In many of our religious traditions the cloistered aspects of the tradition has featured that.”
However, he says, as well as their mystical aspects, many religions also contain “a branch which says ‘onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war’… to me, that’s exactly the opposite to what these transcendent ideas are all about.”
“It seems to be always the case that, from the evidence we have of these ancient transcendent events, that the early spiritual leaders had the same notions as we’re talking about; but somewhere along the line the followers, who hadn’t had the original experience, reverted right back to the same old political manoeuvres, social and cultural bickering… so eventually religion becomes part of the problem, and not part of the solution.”
He refers to the movie Avatar’s portrayal of “nature as a creative force and of a ‘god’ of nature”, as distinct from “Christian and Islamic religious concepts of a personified deity”, saying “The [former] would come closer to my view, as a result of this experience in space. As far as traditional religious concepts are concerned, I would have to say that I am an agnostic.”
In recent years he has worked with several prominent scientists in developing the theory of the “quantum hologram”, which posits an energy field infusing all objects and living things. They hypothesize that this “quantum field” contains information about each object or being; and that it in turn interacts and connects with a single unified energy field that pervades the entire universe.
He says that “the quantum hologram [could be] a mechanism for psychic information, which we call in English our intuition our ‘sixth sense’. It should really be called our ‘first sense’ [as] quantum information flow is very fundamental in nature.”
He agrees that this conception may in some ways correspond with the theological concept of the “One God” of Judaeo-Christian tradition, but he says, “in the Judaeo-Christian tradition they personify and anthropomorphise the deity, and I don’t….this newer interpretation that seems to be unfurling before us is with nature as the creative force, embodied in the natural law of the universe. That certainly seems to fit, in my mind at least, better than most other models.” But he chuckles, “We still have a ways to go before we understand the universe….we won’t have the answers before tea-time.”
The reason why science has historically so rarely dared to explore consciousness, he says, can be traced back “to the time of Descartes in the late 16thearly and 17thcentury, when he came to the conclusion that physicality and spirituality were two different realms of reality that didn’t interact. That served the very noble purpose of getting the Spanish inquisition off the backs of the intellectuals, so that they could pursue intellectual subjects, as long as they stayed away from mind, consciousness and spirit, which were the realm of the church. The downside of this is that for 400 years science arose as strictly a materialist concept.”
He says that it was only when “quantum mechanics arose as the beginning of 20thcentury, it very clearly demonstrated that the Cartesian duality was flawed. It has taken us the entire 20thcent to catch up and to start to [embrace] the idea that consciousness is a proper subject for science to study. After I came back from the moon…I realised that that the flaw in science [was] that consciousness and mind not been seen as a proper subject for study in science.”
Dr. Mitchell has seen a broad spread of history in his 80 years; having grown up in the Great Depression, lived through World War II, fought in the Korean War, and been part of the moon landings; but he believes that mankind is right now in a critical period of transition because “civilisation is not on a sustainable path with the explosion of population in the 20thand 21stcenturies. We are consuming non-renewable sources and a non-sustainable rate and you can’t sustain a rapid growth in a finite space…. something’s got to give, and it’s got to give quickly. In ‘systems theory’ it’s called a ‘bifurcation point;’ we’ll either solve the problem and go forward; or we won’t solve the problem and we’ll go down. And that bifurcation point is fairly close at hand.”
He believes that what we fundamentally need to create a sustainable civilization is a “shift in consciousness that starts to recognise ‘were all in this together, we’re all part of the same mould; that the molecules in our bodies were manufactured or prototyped in ancient star systems, and we are all part of the same stuff. And that we’d better learn to solve our problems co-operatively and together rather than solving our problems through violence and war. Otherwise, sooner or later we will use nuclear weapons if we keep this up, and as soon as we do that, it’s all over.”
At this point in the article, I invite readers to hold onto their hats. In fact, if you're not wearing a hat put one on, and then hold onto it. But above all, maintain an open mind:
Dr Mitchell has long been known popularly as an Apollo astronaut and for his scientific research, however he hit the headlines across the world in the summer of 2008 when he said on live radio: "I happen to have been privileged enough to be in on the fact that we've been visited on this planet, and the UFO phenomenon is real." A NASA spokesperson responded to his claims, saying: "NASA does not track UFOs. NASA is not involved in any sort of cover up about alien life on this planet or anywhere in the universe. Dr Mitchell is a great American, but we do not share his opinions on this issue.”
Although my primary interest in interviewing Dr Mitchell was to explore his life story and to garner his scientific and spiritual insights, I felt I ought to also ask him about this extraordinary pronouncement, which he has since repeated on Fox News, CNN and elsewhere. Dr Mitchell told me that he feels that his promotion of awareness of the reality, as he sees it, of extraterrestrial visitations is an important part of raising human consciousness toward building a sustainable civilisation: “I think I’m working in a direction that will give us a possible future as opposed to a destroyed future.”
Although Dr. Mitchell grew up in Roswell, New Mexico, he says he only came to give credence to the idea of ET visitations in the years after his 1971 moon mission. He says, “I learned about the Roswell incident when I went back to New Mexico to visit and see family and friends there and make a couple of speeches. I had what I call ‘the old timers’ tug at my sleeve and say ‘can we talk a little bit’ and tell me their story, and…in 1997 I went to the Pentagon and told that story and we did get some confirmation that it was true.” This confirmation, he says, came from an Admiral in the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and he says he regularly speaks to contacts in intelligence and the military who keep him up to date on the subject.
He says he heard no rumours of such strange encounters during his time with the Apollo programme: “As far as I know,…there were no encounters at that time among the Apollo people. And certainly, even though somewhere along the line, Buzz Aldrin made some statements to that effect, I happen to have been personally in mission control when they were flying and nothing like that came across the air.”
He says that “from what I know, and I don’t consider myself a real expert in the area, but there are more than one civilisation, or species of extraterrestrials that have been here, as far as it appears… And I don’t know that all of them are as open minded and helpful as others – or that they’re all the same, but I’m sure there are some that are here to try to help us try to do exactly what we need to do, which is to create a sustainable civilisation. They certainly don’t seem to be trying to conquer us in any way or they could certainly have done so, if that were their intent. So, by and large, I think their presence is to help us rather than to hinder us; let’s hope that proves to be true. As far as I know the number that the lore talks about is four sub-species or four species of visitors.”
He says that he knows “from private sources” that President Barrack Obama has been briefed on this subject. He also notes that the Vatican in late 2009 held a conference on extraterrestrial life and has declared its existence to be compatible with its theology, which he calls “a step in the right direction.”
He says that President Obama “has some knowledge, but whether that really is sufficient to motivate him to go forward with disclosure or whether it has been, as has been, time in the past, inner council saying ‘no let’s keep it quiet for a while longer.’ I don’t know the answer.”
He feels that the any such ETs “could very well” have spiritual concerns as well as a scientific interest in Earth: “we’re still not a very advanced civilisation in my opinion…I often say we think were pretty smart and yes we’ve got some pretty interesting technology, but by and large spiritually and morally, we are just barely out of the trees in an evolutionary sense… we have the awesome destructive power and technology and we don’t have the good sense and the wisdom and the sense of connectedness to not use it.”
As to his hopes for the future of space exploration, he says: “our solar system is half way through its life cycle, so sooner or later we have to be out of here; and maybe that’s what some of the alien visitation is all about, maybe their home planets are under threat. But right now, our immediate threat is our own doing, which is creating an unsustainable future for ourselves by overdoing everything we’re doing including population and consumption.”
As to the future of human space exploration, he says, “its true that likely space exploration can offer some solutions to stabilise the future of our civilisation, so that there are resources available, perhaps on the moon, or mars or in the asteroid belt, and certainly energy from the sun can help offset the fact that we are using up our other sources of energy at an alarming rate; so there’s a lot that space technology has to offer that we haven’t explored yet.”
As to whether America has a special role in the world today, he says: “Well, we can have, but at the moment we don’t seem to be optimising our leadership role and we need to get back to doing that in a better way. And we’re talking about the very things here: moving toward a shift in consciousness, and moving toward understanding the spiritual nature of things in a better way. I was hoping that President Obama and the Democratic Party was going to move us away form these ‘everything is competitive’ capitalist systems [but] I don’t blame the capitalist system for [the financial crisis], it’s the greed of individuals within the system. It wouldn’t matter if it’s the socialist system, the communist system, as long as greed and self interest dominates instead of public interest dominating, then you’re going to end up with the same result.”
Dr. Mitchell feels that the global recession presents an opportunity for spiritual awakening: “the real future in my opinion is transformational thinking, a transformation in consciousness, toward understanding a greater good. When I was a younger man I thought the political system was for the service of the greater good, but we’ve seen throughout history despots and dictators messing that up, [so] learning how to mange that is what civilisation is all about, in my opinion.”
“To me, this time that we are in is a time of great transition and we must awaken and learn to quell these violent spirits that we have. That’s what I tell children when I talk to them.”
Dr. Mitchell challenges our reality in many ways. But his greatest challenge is to our open-mindedness. When someone of his stature and with his scientific training, and contacts, suggests things that seem so extraordinary, we have a duty not to retreat in to our entrenched positions of doubt and ridicule but to actively engage with what he says, however much it may rattle our cages. And I have to confess, as a reporter on the often mundane subjects of law, politics and religion, I confess that it was somewhat spooky to have to look head-on at the extraordinary claims made by Dr. Mitchell in interviewing him, for such concepts challenge the very foundations of our common-sense everyday worldview.
Yet he has been where few have followed: A great many astronauts have been in to orbit, but only twelve have stood on the moon and Earth as it really is: tiny, fragile, and travelling lonesome in a sparkling void.
Many may have reacted to some of Dr. Mitchell’s assertions like Shakespeare’s Horatio did upon seeing a ghost:
“O day and night, this is wondrous strange!”
We may all do well to remember Hamlet’s reply:
“And thereforeas a stranger give it welcome. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
Ultimately, whatever the truth about his claims of ET visitations, Dr. Mitchell entreats us to become better stewards of our planet, and promotes a sense universal fellowship, with all creatures. As he once said, recalling seeing whales up-close on a visit to the Antarctic “we are all friends, we are one - we are just a little bit of a different shape.”
Edgar J Mitchell died in 2016.