Credit: NASA
Science

Edgar Mitchell, 6th Man to Walk on Moon, Dead at 85

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It is a sobering thought, and liable to give one pause, that in the year two thousand and sixteen, that distant future our parents and grandparents dreamed of, the number of living people who have walked on the moon is actually going down.

Edgar Mitchell died Thursday. The name may not ring a bell — not like Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin — but he was a member of that same august circle. On February 5th, 1971, he and Alan Shepard landed on the Moon as part of the Apollo 14 mission. Death took him just one day shy of the 45th anniversary of his becoming a part of history.

All in all, six Apollo missions sent twelve astronauts there between 1969 and 1972. One dozen, out of all of human history. Old men now, fading one by one. And we haven’t been back since.

Of course, we’ve not been idle. Since that time the space shuttle came and went, the International Space Station was created and is now one of the high points of human history. We have turned our eyes to Mars, and there is even talk of a permanent colony there. But somehow the moon has just…fallen by the wayside, somehow. There was a time when we believed — no, we expected — that by this time our nearest neighbor would be colonized. We would vacation on the moon, blast off from the nearest rocket-port to spend a week among the stars. And somehow, it never came to pass. The moon colony dream seems increasingly to have joined flying cars and food pills as artifacts of a future that is always around the corner but will never quite arrive.

Times change, of course, and dreams change with them. But still, it is perhaps a little sad that we seem to have cast lunar exploration aside. For so long it was the focus of our ambitions, the first step off the safe shore of our planet into the big, wide universe. The fact that we made that step at all, sixty-six years after the first powered flight — less than a lifetime. It boggles the mind. It was a dream come true in the most literal sense of the words. Mitchell, Aldrin, Armstrong…they were reminders of what the human race is capable of when at its very best.

As to Edgar Mitchell, his place is assured, his rest earned. Let his name be ever remembered, and let his epitaph be his own words, from a 1974 interview with People magazine on viewing the Earth from outside:

“You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.'”

Would that we could all have that perspective.

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