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

Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14 Astronaut (PHOTO CREDIT: NASA)
Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14 Astronaut (PHOTO CREDIT: NASA)

Edgar Mitchell, who 45 years ago became the sixth man to walk on the moon, died on Thursday (Feb. 4), the day before the anniversary of his lunar landing. He was 85.

The lunar module pilot on board NASA’s Apollo 14 mission in 1971, Edgar Mitchell died peacefully in his sleep after a short illness at a hospice facility located near his home in West Palm Beach, Fla., his family confirmed.

“He was a hero in the classical sense,” Karlyn Mitchell, the astronaut’s oldest daughter, said in statement. “Though he fulfilled his childhood dreams while still a young man, he managed to sustain an aura of excitement by evolving and reinventing himself. He never tired of encouraging others to strive and explore.”

“My brother and sisters consider ourselves so blessed to have had the Dad we did,” added Kimberly Mitchell, oldest of his adopted children. “He was incredibly generous with his heart and his brain, making each of us a better person because we knew him and were shaped by him.”

For nine hours over the course of two moonwalks, Mitchell explored the Fra Mauro highlands with the commander of Apollo 14, Alan Shepard. Flying to and from the moon with Stuart Roosaon the command module Kitty Hawk, Mitchell and Shepard achieved the third U.S. moon landing on Feb. 5, 1971, but not before problems aboard the lunar module Antares almost caused an abort, twice.

‘Whew, that was close’
“We noticed as we were on our last circuit of the moon before starting down, while checking out the lunar module and getting ready, that the abort light came on in the lunar module,” said Mitchell in a 1997 NASA interview. “And that was a surprise. It shouldn’t do that.”

The false signal was about to become a real problem after the descent engine fired, as it would have led the on board computer to command an auto-abort. After a scramble by flight controllers back on Earth, Mitchell was able to enter a software fix, comprising more than 80 keystrokes, just in time.

“We had something like 30 seconds to spare when we got all of that done, and we started de-orbit then and fired the engines to start down, with just a few seconds left to spare and it worked,” Mitchell recounted.

It was not long though, before another problem arose.

“It was one crisis to the next in that last two hours,” said Mitchell. “When we got down to 20,000 feet [6,100 m], we had no landing radar, and that caused another emergency with about 90 to 100 seconds to go … because we had to – at 10,000 feet [3,050 m] – abort if we didn’t have landing radar.”

Fortunately, a call from the ground to try cycling the radar’s circuit breaker worked, restoring access to the altitude and vertical descent speed data needed to safely land.

“Whew, that was close,” Mitchell radioed Mission Control.

Less than six minutes later, the Antares had safely landed, and less than six hours later, Mitchell was on the surface.

“Okay, Ed. We can see you coming down the ladder now,” Mission Control radioed as Mitchell followed Shepard onto the lunar surface.

“And it’s very great to be coming down,” replied Mitchell, before he jumped off the ladder’s bottom rung to the lunar module’s footpad. “That last one is a long one.”

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SOURCE: Space.com, Robert Pearlman