What do you expect when you go to the home of a man who's walked on the moon? On a Wednesday in December I drove down a street in Lake Worth, Florida. Where the houses were unostentatious; it was trash day so barrels and recyclables were out. All was ordinary. Edgar Mitchell's one-story house was set back in a modest yard close to his neighbor's yard.
We sat on kitchen stools and Mitchell drank black herbal tea like a good Navy man and we talked for two hours. Mitchell traced his family history – his granddad had lost everything in the Great Depression, so Mitchell's dad and brothers drove spikes for the Santa Fe Railroad. His dad bought a heifer calf for nine dollars and in time, turned the single heifer into a cattle farm and later invested in farm machinery. In 1935 the Mitchell family moved to Roswell, New Mexico.
As a schoolboy Edgar Mitchell excelled at mathematics and had a teacher, Robert Parham, who took an interest in Mitchell and urged him to go to a top college. He went to Carnegie Tech in Pittsburgh. After college the draft board changed Mitchell's life. Instead of going into business, Mitchell went into the Navy, went to Officer Candidate School and later flew A-3's off aircraft carriers. The Navy sent Mitchell to MIT where he got a Ph.D. and in time he became the lunar module pilot for Apollo 14. He was the sixth person to walk on the moon.
"The dust flies straight out," Mitchell said. "It's strange."
As Mitchell was returning to earth in the command module, he had a transforming experience – for a moment he was aware that he was connected to everything in the universe. He had an awareness of the harmony of the cosmos. Moments later he had an experience of deep despair because he knew that down on earth the Vietnam War was going on and the earth's resources were being dangerously misused. Mitchell returned to the earth and has spent his life exploring consciousness with scientists and mystics all over the world.
I got so fascinated as Edgar Mitchell spoke, I got off the stool and began to pace about and so did Mitchell. Mitchell reminded me that in the 1950s we knew little about space and now, particularly because of the Hubble Telescope, we can see the magnificence of some of the vast universe. That word magnificence is one of the English words that is big enough to point to the astounding beauty in the universe. In the photos of the earth taken from beyond Pluto we see the universe is vast and mysterious, but in that photo we also see the earth as the tiniest speck. On that speck is everything we love.
I left Edgar Mitchell's simple, elegant house buoyed by his graciousness and hopeful that we will not only take better care of the earth but also realize we are citizens of the universe.