When Apollo 14’s Alan Shepard and Stu Roosa noticed flashes of torchlight coming from where Ed Mitchell was supposed to be sleeping in their command module, they didn’t think much of it. They assumed he had gotten himself tangled in the straps of his sleeping bag or something to that effect.
It would take until after the mission was over for them to find out that Mitchell had actually been conducting extrasensory perception (ESP) experiments to find out if it was possible to broadcast and receive thoughts across tens of thousands of miles.
Ed Mitchell was something of an oddball at NASA.
Nicknamed ‘the Brain’, he had two bachelors degrees and a doctorate in aeronautics and astronautics from MIT under his belt, making him just the second astronaut to have a PhD after Buzz Aldrin. He was also the acknowledged lunar module ‘wizard’ of the astronaut corps, with many arguing that his knowledge of the spacecraft’s systems was second to none.
Three weeks prior to the launch of Apollo 14, he was contacted by four psychics who wanted to test the ability to transmit thoughts across large distances. What better opportunity was there to do just that than by getting an astronaut who would soon be travelling 240,000 miles to the Moon to help out? Mitchell readily agreed to take part. In contrast with his scientific background (or maybe not?), he had been interested in psychic phenomena since he was a teenager.
Each night on the way to and from the Moon, Mitchell waited 45 minutes past the scheduled start of each rest period to make sure Shepard and Roosa were both asleep before fishing out a clipboard he had brought along with him.
The clipboard had a table of numbers on it. Each number represented a symbol frequently used in ESP experiments, such as a circle, triangle or square.
Using his torch to see, Mitchell concentrated for 15 seconds on each symbol and tried to transmit it back to Earth for his psychic acquaintances to write down. Each experiment took about six minutes to complete before Mitchell put the clipboard away and settled down to get some sleep.
The experiments weren’t necessarily that successful. There had been a 40 minute weather-related delay prior to Apollo 14’s launch that the psychics hadn’t adjusted their timelines to account for. As a result they were often ‘tuned in’ at the wrong time. One psychic apparently claimed to have received one of Mitchell’s messages when Mitchell hadn’t even been transmitting.
Mitchell seemingly wasn’t that deterred though. In 1973 – the year after he left NASA – he co-founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences, an organisation dedicated to conducting research into parapsychology and psychic phenomena.
His interests didn’t even stop there. In a 2008 interview he claimed that humans have made contact with aliens several times and that the 1947 Roswell incident was indeed a UFO crash.
NASA released a statement in the aftermath of the interview saying, “Dr Mitchell is a great American, but we do not share his opinions on this issue.”