Man’s destiny is to find a way off of Earth and colonize new planets before the sun expires, Apollo 14 astronaut Dr. Edgar Mitchell told a capacity crowd at Saturday’s Alaska Bald Eagle Festival banquet.
“Whether you’ve thought about it or not, our sun is going to burn out in a couple more billion years or so, so we’ve got to be out of here if our civilization is going to survive. And I hope it does survive. I hope we take that challenge and go for it. I’m sure we will. But that is stuff we’re just starting to understand in full sweep,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell, 82, was a Navy test pilot returning to the United States aboard the aircraft carrier Ticonderoga in 1961 when he heard President John F. Kennedy’s speech about sending a manned space mission to the moon.
“I realized that at that point in time a new junction had just taken place in human history and a new path of discovery had just been opened up, and I wanted to be a part of it,” he said.
He earned a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering and a doctoral degree in astronautics before applying to the astronaut corps.
At that time, before the advent of space-based telescopes, “nobody really knew what space was all about,” Mitchell said. “We now understand that the universe is virtually infinite and we’re finding more about it continuously. We’re just a small grain of sand on an immense beach. That’s quite a different story than we had years ago.”
Mitchell marveled at the Saturn V rocket that he, Alan Shepard and Stuart Roosa rode to outer space in 1971. “I have to remind you it’s over seven million pounds of thrust just to get that vehicle off the ground and moving in the gravitational field. We had to get up to close to 36,000 feet per second in velocity to get to go to the moon. That’s pretty awesome numbers folks and that was what we’ve done in the past 60 years.”
On his return to Earth, Mitchell launched the Institute for Noetic Sciences to research human consciousness, a venture inspired by a moment of “ecstasy, unity and oneness” he experienced as his ship hurtled homeward.
He now calls the experience the “overview effect” and said he believes all the Apollo astronauts experienced similar epiphanies.
“I came back and asked some scientists at Rice University to help me understand what went on there… The powerful experience of seeing Earth in the perspective of its place in the universe, seeing a picture of Earth like this with the heavens behind it. It’s an overwhelming, overwhelming experience.
“When we go to the moon and look back on this tiny little planet we call Earth, it seems kind of silly to say, ‘I came from United States’ or from China or Israel or whatever. No, I came from Earth. We’re not ready to do that yet, but we have to learn how to do that.”
The Institute for Noetic Sciences is now in 60 nations, he said. Its stated mission is “supporting individual and collective transformation.”
“We have to learn how to live in a better way and to appreciate the utter magnificence of the universe that we’re in, the opportunities that we have… In due course, we’ll go outside our solar system. In due course we’ll be able to go on to other solar systems and other planets and become universal citizens because that is our destiny, if we don’t blow it. And that’s all up to us.”
Mitchell said he has become a peace advocate and proponent of sustainable development. “We are not there yet. We’ve got a lot of work to do. But we can do it. All we have to do is devote ourselves to it in the right way.”
Mitchell said that he has great faith in science. Human judgment is the outstanding question, he said. “Can we as human beings do what is required? If we’re going to have a peaceful, successful civilization, we’re going to have to get past all the things we’re doing right now to damage ourselves and end our civilization and to kill each other. If we keep doing that, we won’t make it. We as individuals have to individually and politically and as a civilization, decide we want to make it, and get with it.”
Noting that the airline industry arose about 20 years after the first flight, Mitchell said he believed space flight would be advanced by private enterprise, at least in the short term.
“We have entrepreneurs who are taking on space flight. With the aid of free enterprise and the corporate stucture, we will move on to develop space flight and our governments are not going to be left out of this completely,” Mitchell said.