What did you see up there?
“It was euphoric, one of those rare moments in life..." Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
Today is the 52nd anniversary of the launch of one of the lesser-remembered Apollo moon trips.
This was Apollo 14, the one after the one in the Tom Hanks movie. If it’s famous at all, it’s for the fact that its commander was Alan Shepard—who had been one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts (2nd person and 1st American in space), but who had then been grounded for more than a decade due to a medical condition with his ears.
Experimental surgery cured him in 1968, and the result was that Shepard, by this time 47 years old, became the oldest person to walk on the moon (and the only one to hit a golf ball on it).
That’s his picture above, taken by fellow astronaut Edgar D. Mitchell on the surface of the moon. Mitchell is actually more of the main character of today’s story, and the reason why comes from his obituary, really; he died in 2016. It read:
Edgar D. Mitchell, an astronaut who was spiritually transformed by his journey to the moon in 1971 and who devoted much of the rest of his life to exploring esoteric realms of science, psychic phenomena and the existence of extraterrestrial beings, died Feb. 4 at a hospice in West Palm Beach, Fla. He was 85.
“The experience I had on the flight was akin to a religious experience,” Mr. Mitchell told People magazine in 1974. “It was euphoric, one of those rare moments in life when you seemed to be able to reach out and touch the universe, when you had an intuitive flash about the real meaning of truth.”
As one of only 12 men to set foot on the moon, Mr. Mitchell realized that he had a special perspective on the world, and he spent the rest of his life trying to understand the full meaning of that experience.
A lot of people have talked about the life-changing experience they had from being away from the Earth, and able to look at all of us back here on the big blue marble at once.
Writer Frank White, who interviewed or reviewed testimony from 29 astronauts, called it “overview effect” theory. Here’s astronaut Frank Borman, Apollo 8:
“When you’re finally up at the moon looking back on earth, all those differences and nationalistic traits are pretty well going to blend, and you’re going to get a concept that maybe this really is one world and why the hell can’t we learn to live together like decent people.”
Michael Collins, Apollo 11:
"[T]he thing that really surprised me was that it [Earth] projected an air of fragility. And why, I don't know. I don't know to this day. I had a feeling it's tiny, it's shiny, it's beautiful, it's home, and it's fragile."
And, here’s actor William Shatner, who had a short spaceflight courtesy of Jeff Bezos in 2021 and who hasn’t stopped talking about the effect:
"[T]he strongest feeling, dominating everything else by far, was the deepest grief that I had ever experienced. ...
I understood, in the clearest possible way, was that we were living on a tiny oasis of life, surrounded by an immensity of death."
Remember, he was only up there for 10 minutes! And he never left suborbital flight!
That’s a bit rare; White talks about a major difference between astronauts who get far enough away from Earth to see the planet alone against the backdrop of the cosmos. But while some astronauts returned to Earth to become religious, or even to become pastors and other types of preachers, Mitchell stands out for me—changing everything from his look to his interests to his overall reputation.
Mitchell retired from NASA to study "acupuncture, astrology, telekinesis, Gestalt therapy, fire-walking and healing techniques," as his obituary summarized, and wrote a book called Psychic Exploration: A Challenge for Science.
“Dr. Mitchell is a great American,” NASA said after Mitchell became known for his firm belief that aliens had probably visited the planet, but that governments had conspired to cover it up. “But, we do not share his opinions on this issue.”
Spaceflight—at least, low orbital flight—has become a lot more commonplace. I spent more time than I had time for yesterday trying to calculate the increase in space launches over the last few years, but the bottom line is that it’s a lot.
And you have to wonder: How will it change things down here, if more people wind up having a life-altering experience up there?
7 other things worth knowing today
Four years after legalizing recreational marijuana, Canada will again display its progressive drug policy bona fides on Jan. 31, when a law to decriminalize the personal possession of hard drugs in British Columbia takes effect. In a 3-year test, possession of small amounts of fentanyl, heroin, cocaine and other hard drugs will be allowed in Canada’s westernmost province. Drug trafficking will remain illegal. (Financial Post)
Who would you cast as Michael Jackson in a biopic? How about his real-life nephew, Jaafar Jackson? Lionsgate is behind the project, titled Michael, which will be directed by Antoine Fuqua, who shared the news on Instagram. (Hollywood Reporter)
A Connecticut woman, Carmen Quiroga, a Mexican immigrant who speaks English as a second language named her new breakfast cafe, "Woke Breakfast & Coffee." Result: Online backlash from some people; long lines and sold-out menu items as a result of others who backlashed against the backlash. Quiroga claims she barely follows news or politics and had no idea of the political implications of the word “woke” when she chose the name. (Washington Post)
Most national discussion about illegal immigration in the U.S. involves talking about the southern border with Mexico, but here's a pretty interesting story on how the Coast Guard is dealing with a significant increase in the number of migrants from Cuba, Haiti, and other countries trying to make it to Florida in makeshift boats. (USA Today)
Here’s what being filthy rich in Europe looked like in 1000 BC, 1 AD, and 1000 AD. (BigThink)
The most romantic weekend getaway in every state, probably written by an AI bot or an intern who has never actually visited 42 of the states or any of the places on the list, but still kind of fun to look up your state. (Thrillist)
Speaking of Apollo 13 … I realized while writing this that we are now farther in time from the movie Apollo 13 (28 years) than the movie was from the actual, real-life Apollo 13 (25 years). (Me on Twitter)
Thanks for reading. U.S. government photo taken by Edgar Mitchell on the moon. See you in the comments.