(Reuters) – Astronaut Edgar Mitchell, the sixth man to walk on the moon as module pilot on the record-setting Apollo 14 mission in 1971, has died at the age of 85, the U.S. space agency said on Friday.
Mitchell died in West Palm Beach, Florida, on Thursday, on the eve of the 45th anniversary of the lunar landing, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said. The Palm Beach Post reported that he died at a hospice centre after a brief illness.
On his only space flight, Mitchell joined Apollo 14 commander Alan Shephard, Jr., the first American in space, in the lunar module Antares when it landed on Feb. 5, 1971.
Their mission was to deploy scientific instruments and perform a communications test, as well as photograph the lunar surface and any deep space phenomena, the space agency said.
Mitchell and Shephard set mission records for time of the longest distance traversed on the lunar surface, the largest payload returned from the moon, and the longest lunar stay time, at 33 hours. They were also the first to transmit colour TV from the moon.
Mitchell helped collect 94 pounds (42.6 kg) of lunar rock and soil samples. He was the sixth of 12 men to walk on the moon.
In his book “The Way of the Explorer,” Mitchell wrote, “There was a sense that our presence as space travellers, and the existence of the universe itself, was not accidental but that there was an intelligent process at work.”
Mitchell retired from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the U.S. Navy and founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences in 1973, organised to sponsor research in the nature of consciousness.
In 1984, he co-founded the Association of Space Explorers, an international organization devoted to providing an understanding of the human condition resulting from space exploration.
Mitchell was born in Hereford, Texas, and held a doctorate in aeronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was selected as an astronaut in 1966.
In a 1997 interview for the agency’s oral history project, Mitchell said he was drawn to space flight by President John Kennedy’s call to send astronauts to the moon.
“I’ve been devoted to that, to exploration, education, and discovery since my earliest years, and that’s what kept me going,” he said.
(This version of the story corrects age in headline and first paragraph to 85, not 86)
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Diane Craft)