Washington: Astronaut Edgar Mitchell, a module pilot on Apollo 14 mission that touched down the lunar surface on February 5, 1971, died in Florida this week on the eve of the 45th anniversary of his lunar landing.
Mitchell joined Apollo 14 commander Alan Shephard, Jr., the first American in space, in the lunar module Antares which touched down in the Fra Mauro highlands on the Moon.
Shepard and Mitchell were assigned to traverse the lunar surface to deploy scientific instruments and perform a communications test on the surface as well as photograph the lunar surface and any deep space phenomena. It was Mitchell’s only spaceflight.
Mitchell and Shephard set mission records for the time of the longest distance traversed on the lunar surface, the largest payload returned from lunar surface and the longest lunar stay time (33 hours).
They were also the first to transmit colour TV from the lunar surface.
Mitchell helped collect 94 pounds of lunar rock and soil samples that were distributed across 187 scientific teams in the US and 14 other countries for analysis.
“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,” said NASA administrator Charles Bolden in a statement.
Mitchell was drawn to the spaceflight by President John F Kennedy's call to send astronauts to the moon.
“After Kennedy announced the moon programme, that's what I wanted because it was the bear going over the mountain to see what he could see, and what could you learn, and I've been devoted to that - to exploration, education, and discovery since my earliest years, and that's what kept me going," Mitchell said in 1997 interview for NASA's oral history programme.
In his book titled “The Way of the Explorer”, Mitchell wrote: "There was a sense that our presence as space travelers, and the existence of the universe itself, was not accidental but that there was an intelligent process at work.”
Mitchell retired from NASA and the US Navy and founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences in 1973 to sponsor research in the nature of consciousness.
In 1984, he co-founded the Association of Space Explorers, and international organisation for all who “share experience of space travel”.