Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell has died at the age of 85 after a months-long illness, according to reports that emerged on the 45th anniversary of his first moonwalk.
Members of Mitchell’s family spread the word today in obituaries published by news outlets in Palm Beach, Fla., where the former astronaut lived. The Palm Beach Post quoted his daughter, Kimberly Mitchell, as saying he died at a local hospice at about 10 p.m. ET Thursday.
“As a member of the Apollo 14 crew, Edgar is one of only 12 men to walk on the moon, and he helped to change how we view our place in the universe,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement.
Edgar Mitchell took part in the first lunar mission to follow 1970’s nearly disastrous flight of Apollo 13, and became the sixth human to set foot on the moon.
Mitchell and Apollo 14 commander Alan Shepard landed on the lunar surface on Feb. 5, 1971, and conducted two moonwalks. “Our task was to start to do the science,” he told me in a 2014 interview. “And we did that. We did it well. We brought back the first real samples from the moon.”
The experience was life-changing for Mitchell. While he was on the moon, he felt an ecstatic sense of oneness with the universe. “What the heck is happening to me?” he recalled asking himself. After leaving NASA in 1972, he founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences and devoted himself to the study of consciousness.
Mitchell also delved into the issues surrounding extrasensory perception and UFO sightings, including the 1947 Roswell incident in New Mexico. Based on his discussions with witnesses and their associates, he came to believe there was “adequate proof that the Roswell incident was a real thing.”
In 2011, Mitchell was caught up in a controversy over a 16mm camera that he kept for decades after its use on the moon. After initially making plans to sell the camera in an auction, he agreed to hand it over to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. Since then, a law was enacted to grant Mercury, Gemini and Apollo astronauts full ownership rights to the artifacts they saved as souvenirs.
Mitchell was born in Texas and received his Ph.D. in aeronautics and astronautics from MIT. He was a Navy pilot during the 1950s, and served in the Navy Field Office for Manned Orbital Laboratory in the early 1960s. In 1966, he was selected for astronaut training. Apollo 14 was his only spaceflight.
In addition to founding the Institute of Noetic Sciences, Mitchell was a co-founder of the Association of Space Explorers. He was the fifth of the 12 Apollo moonwalkers to pass away. The others are Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong, Apollo 12’s Pete Conrad, Apollo 14’s Alan Shepard and Apollo 15’s James Irwin.
Mitchell was married and divorced three times. He is survived by five children, nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild, according to TCPalm.com. Funeral arrangements are pending.