Thursday, December 22, 2016

Extraordinary Astronauts Try To Disclose The Truth About Extraterrestrials

The Lives They Lived

Edgar Mitchell during an Apollo 14 training session in 1970. CreditNASA
There is a photograph of the astronaut Edgar Mitchell emerging from the Apollo 14 capsule, a ragged cone of scorched metal and shredded foil bobbing in the South Pacific 880 miles off the coast of American Samoa. A wetsuit-clad Navy swimmer is helping him out of the access hatch and into an inflatable raft. Mitchell, dressed in an olive-drab flight suit and a biological mask, steadies himself with his left hand on the door frame. He is 40, with the receding hairline and blandly gentle affect of a family dentist. It is Feb. 9, 1971, and he has just had an epiphany.
It happened on the flight back from the moon, where Mitchell and his colleague Alan Shepard had traversed the Fra Mauro region and trekked to the Cone Crater to gather geological samples that, it was hoped, might reveal something of the moon’s inner structure. As the Kitty Hawk command module hurtled homeward, Mitchell watched the earth, moon and sun passing by the window of the rotating capsule in two-minute intervals. Looking out into space, Mitchell later recalled, “I realized that the molecules of my body and the molecules of the spacecraft had been manufactured in an ancient generation of stars.”
Mitchell was a naval aviator whose doctoral dissertation, from M.I.T., was on guidance systems in low-thrust interplanetary vehicles. Nothing in his training had equipped him for a sudden discovery of the oneness of all things. “It was a subjective visceral experience accompanied by ecstasy,” he would later tell a yoga magazine.
In the Apollo years, NASA sent military test pilots into space, not poets or preachers; they came back in possession of extraordinary knowledge that, by dint of personality or professional inclination, they seemed helpless to communicate. As the Gemini and Apollo astronaut Michael Collins once put it, “It was not within our ken to share emotions or to utter extraneous information.” Asked what it was like to go to the moon, Apollo 12’s Pete Conrad replied: “Super! Really enjoyed it!”

UFO in the background of  NASA Image
But then there was Mitchell. After returning to Earth, he left NASA, grew a beard and divorced his wife. He founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences, which advocated exploring the universe by means of inquiry that lay outside of science and religion. He sought out South American shamans and Haitian Vodou priests, promoted the benefits of Tibetan Buddhist lucid dreaming, visited the homes of people who claimed their children could bend spoons with their minds. He went on Jack Paar’s talk show with the self-proclaimed psychic Uri Geller. Two more marriages, one of them to a former Playboy playmate, came and went. He got deep, very deep, into theories about extraterrestrials. He had a posthumous cameo in the cache of John Podesta’s hacked emails that WikiLeaks published this year, which included messages Mitchell sent to Podesta (a U.F.O. buff) asking him to discuss the possibility of disclosing the federal government’s records of alien contact. He signed the emails “6th man to walk on the Moon.”

The 1947 crash of a mysterious aircraft near Roswell, N.M., that fueled half a century’s worth of U.F.O. theories occurred near a ranch where Mitchell, then 16, lived.

If he got weird sometimes — O.K., a lot of times — could you really blame him? Few people had a closer view than Mitchell of the staggering velocity of the 20th century. He spent his early years on a West Texas farm with horse-drawn ploughs, watched a mushroom cloud bloom over a Marshall Islands atoll as a young Navy pilot and temporarily escaped his home planet before his 41st birthday. “I have wondered if we are prepared for our own survival,” he wrote late in life. The only way for humans to gain some control of the species’ mad trajectory, he believed, was “by questioning many fundamental assumptions underlying civilization.”
Mitchell was the last surviving member of his mission. The seven living Apollo astronauts who stood on the lunar surface are all in their 80s now; within a decade, probably, the experience of walking on the moon will be as alien to the living as the experience of fighting in the Peloponnesian War. The American flags Mitchell and the others planted there are most likely faded to white now, after years of unimpeded solar radiation, gnomic banners of no particular nation.
Americans, and especially American politicians tend to consider this an indictment of the national character, the final departure from the moon in 1972 the beginning of a slow retreat from destiny. But Mitchell believed his odyssey was beyond “the capricious political whim of a technological civilization.” When he first stepped onto the moon, “that pristine bone-white world,” he was overcome with a sensation of belonging. “The stillness,” he wrote, “seemed to convey that the landscape itself had been patiently awaiting our arrival for millions of years.”
Charles Homans is the politics editor for the magazine.
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