Edgar Mitchell, pioneer of space and consciousness, dies

06mitchell-obit-2-thumbStandardTwo obits. One from the NYT, the other from the President and CEO of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, which Mitchell founded in 1973, in response to an epiphany when returning from the Moon. BTW: his work with Carol Rosin reaches back 40 years.

Edgar D. Mitchell, 6th Moonwalking Astronaut, dies at 85


Mr. Mitchell created a stir in 2008 when he told a British radio station that his contacts in military and intelligence circles had told him that “we’ve been visited on this planet, and the U.F.O. phenomena is real,” but that governments had “covered up” the matter for at least 60 years. (His boyhood home was 40 miles south of Roswell, N.M., site of the celebrated claim of an unidentified flying object crash and government cover-up in 1947.)

NASA, Mr. Mitchell’s former employer, was quick to respond. “NASA does not track U.F.O.s,” a spokesman for the agency said. “NASA is not involved in any sort of cover-up about alien life on this planet or anywhere else in the universe.”

In Memoriam: Edgar Mitchell.


Most people know Edgar Mitchell best as an Apollo 14 astronaut and sixth person to walk on the moon. A US Navy Captain, MIT-trained aeronautics engineer, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the NASA distinguished service award, and 2005 nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize among many other honors, Edgar Mitchell was a hero in the truest sense of the word.

What fewer people know is that Edgar’s spirit of exploration extended well beyond space travel to his lifelong dedication to increasing our scientific understanding of the nature of consciousness.

Space exploration symbolized for Mitchell what it did for his nation—a technological triumph of historic proportions, an unprecedented demonstration of scientific achievement, and extraordinary potential for new discoveries. What Mitchell did not anticipate was a return trip that triggered something even more powerful. As he gazed at Earth floating in the vastness of space and contemplated the history and hopes of humankind on that lonely blue sphere, he was engulfed by a profound sense of universal connectedness.

“I realized that the story of ourselves as told by science—our cosmology, our religion— was incomplete and likely flawed. I recognized that the Newtonian idea of separate, independent, discreet things in the universe wasn’t a fully accurate description. What was needed was a new story of who we are and what we are capable of becoming.”

That moment was an epiphany for Mitchell. As an accomplished scientist and engineer, he had grown accustomed to directing his attention to the objective world “out there.” But the experience that came to him while hurtling through space was profound.

“My understanding of the distinct separateness and relative independence of movement of those cosmic bodies was shattered. I was overwhelmed with the sensation of physically and mentally extending out into the cosmos. The restraints and boundaries of flesh and bone fell away. I wondered if Stu and Alan [companion astronauts] were experiencing it as well … Somehow I never felt the urge to ask.”

The experience led him to a startling hypothesis: Perhaps reality is more complex, subtle, and inexorably mysterious than conventional science had led him to believe. Perhaps a deeper understanding of consciousness could lead to a new and expanded view of reality in which objective and subjective, outer and inner, are understood as complementary aspects of the miracle and mystery of being.

That realization sowed the seeds of Mitchell’s next mission. A few years later, in 1973, he founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS). Edgar was troubled by the prevalence of a dualistic worldview in Western thought and science that separates mind and matter and that typically posits matter as the fundamental basis of reality. Fortunately, the advent of quantum physics provided scientific evidence that challenged this dualistic worldview. Experiments at the subatomic level revealed that (under certain conditions) one particle of matter will instantly “respond” when something happens to another particle, even though the two are separated from each other in space. Edgar interpreted that phenomenon as meaning that “awareness” might be present at an elemental subatomic level.


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