As promised in my story in today’s Extra section, here is a more complete transcript of my Sept. 11 interview with Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell. He’s a truly fascinating guy. —MikeA
What was it like being on the moon?
What more can an explorer want? That’s what we were. … To go where humans haven’t been, look around, gather data, come back and tell the people. That’s what explorers do.
Were those suits bulky even in the moon’s gravity?
They were. But they were necessary. We had practiced in those suits. We were familiar with how difficult things were and fortunately on the moon’s gravitation which is one sixth what it is on Earth, it was a bit easier … but nevertheless it was still cumbersome.
I’m sure it’s well documented, but I’d like to hear what you saw while you were there, from a first person point of view.
There weren’t any great surprises because the moon is a dead planet, essentially, with no atmosphere. … I guess the great surprise that many of us had was the fact that the back side looks quite different from the front side because of the fact that the same side of the moon faces the Earth at all times, and the lava flows from the early period came out on the front side and filled the craters and the ancients thought those were oceans. They called them maria. What they are is really craters filled with black material … pummeled up to talcum powder fineness. On the back side it’s more like sand. Only once we got there and got pictures did we realize that was the case.
Did you guys do anything like set up a flag or play golf?
Every mission had a flag on a pole, with a little metal rod at the top to make it look like it’s flying all the time. All crews set those up.
My partner, Alan Shepard, hit a golf ball, and I threw a javelin after his golf ball. Outthrew him by about four inches.
Did it go further than it would have here?
No, because the pressure suit is so cumbersome. It didn’t go but about 50 feet or so. Neither did his golf ball, because it wasn’t really a golf club that he was using, it was a head of a golf club put on a piece of equipment we had, and he was swinging it one-handed because he couldn’t really swing it two-handed.
Were you able to see the Earth from where you were?
In order to really see it, you had to hang onto … the leg of the spacecraft and lean way back because it was directly overhead … and when you standing on the surface in the pressure suit you couldn’t look directly overhead.
How stressful was the trip up? I know it went more smoothly than the previous mission, Apollo 13.
Apollo 13 was originally my flight. That came about because … in those days, our practice was, you served on the backup crew prior to being on a prime crew. … I served backup on Apollo 10 because Fred Haise and I helped build the lunar modules. When the first lunar module was sent into Earth orbit for tests, we were free to enter the crew cycle. I was back up on Apollo 10, he went to backup on Apollo 11, and that meant that I would be prime crew on Apollo 13 and he would be prime crew on 14, except for the fact that I was backup on Apollo 10 with Gordon Cooper, and he decided to retire rather than go forward. So he wasn’t available … Alan Shepard who had been grounded with Meniere’s syndrome for some time and got back on flight status, wanted to take Gordon’s place, so it was approved at Houston, so we were the Apollo 13 crew, but headquarters in Washington said, Alan, we think you need a little more training time, so they forced a switch between Jim Lovell’s crew, with Fred Haise … they were 14, we were 13, we switched. … They got the bad machine, we got a good machine, and we ended up doing the Apollo 13 mission. We just called it Apollo 14.
We [original command module pilot Ken Mattingly and I] went into the command module and lunar module simulators to practice what they had to do in space to get home. And we did that all the time bringing them home, for which we got the Presidential Medal of Freedom for helping them get home.
We had practiced and practiced and practiced in simulators, and … simulated the surface activity at Cape Kennedy, so … the only thing that was different was that we were doing it en route to the moon and on the moon, rather than doing it here on Earth. There wasn’t all that great difference except … reduced gravitation, one sixth gravitation, and no atmosphere. All the rest of it … we’d practiced and practiced and practiced till it was just natural with us.
Did you ever have any dreams growing up of becoming an astronaut?
I graduated from college in 1952. … The Korean War was on, and I was about to be drafted into the Army. However, I had started flying when I was 13 years old, by being a lineboy when I could get away from my father’s ranch … I got paid in flight time, so I had a pilot’s license by the time I was 16. So when the draft came along … I said I don’t mind serving my country but I want to fly. It so happened the rules at that time were that neither the Air Force nor the Navy took married men into their flight school, and I’d just married my college sweetheart … The way I got around that was I enlisted in the Navy, went to boot camp in San Diego, became a Seaman, then went to officer’s school in Newport, R.I., became an Ensign in the Navy, then I applied for flight school and got it. .. The Korean War, you know, only lasted about three years and it was all over with — but because I’d made that decision, I spent the decade of the 50s aboard a carrier in the Pacific, and was on my way to test pilot duty, because I was a pretty good pilot, in October 1957, when Sputnik went up. That kind of changed the whole course of everything. The first astronauts were just being selected when I got back and was on shore duty … and I decided I wanted to go for that, so I applied. … I went back to school and got a Ph.D. courtesy of the Navy … got a Doctor of Science from M.I.T. As a result I was the first astronaut that had both test pilot credentials and a doctorate from a major technical school.
What are your thoughts on the state of our space program now?
One of my major concerns is that our global civilizations is not on a sustainable path. … Population explosion is out of control. Use of non-renewable resources is out of control. We as a species are going to have to make a strong resolution to create a substainable civilization or we’re not going to be around here for another century. But the whole point is that it’s doable. And in due course, as we all know, our star has a finite lifetime, and so sooner or later whether we’re sustainable or not we’re going to have to be off this planet, and that means using technology to do so.
Those of us like myself … who have been exposed to the U.F.O. technology and E.T. presence for quite a number of years know that that’s probably in our future if we can make it so. …
My doctoral thesis, back in 1963 at M.I.T, I wrote the trajectory for an electric propulsion system to go to Mars … If we’re going to survive as a species, we have to have space flight and space technology. Since we have been visited by E.T.s and they seem to have a technology that gets us [sic] here but we don’t have one to get there, we’re going to have to develop a technology and that requires, in my opinion, since I work on it all the time, discovering how to use zero-point energy, which is the basic energy of the universe.
I notice you’re not at all shy about asserting that we have been visited by extraterrestials.
I grew up in Roswell, N.M., which is the site of the big Roswell incident of the 1940s. … When it started to become obvious that we had been visited, to me, I started doing some research. I am now on a first name basis with virtually all the leading investigators in that field. … Although I have not personally had an E.T. or U.F.O. experience … I know all the people, and I know all the literature, and I’m very certain that we have been visited.
Your research goes into a number of territories that are regarded with skepticism in some circles.
That’s what’s fun about it. We’re breaking down barriers and finding things. That’s what science is all about: new discovery … There’s nothing that we have done or have demonstrated that doesn’t have good science behind it. Skeptics be damned.
What got you interested in helping out the Science Museum of Western Virginia?
Jim [Rollings] was head of the science museum here in Palm Beach many years ago … I had been over there a few times and we got to be friends. … I enjoy meeting people. It’s a part of my life … There’s only eight of us left now that have walked on the Moon. I feel priveleged to be part of that small cadre.