Space & Innovation

Apollo 14 Astronaut Edgar Mitchell Dead at 85

US astronaut Edgar Mitchell, one of just 12 people to have walked on the moon, has died.

US astronaut Edgar Mitchell, one of just 12 people to have walked on the moon, has died aged 85, his family and NASA said Friday, calling him a "pioneer."

NASA paid glowing tribute to Mitchell, who died in Florida after a brief illness late Thursday, the eve of the 45th anniversary of his lunar landing.

The late astronaut was a member of the 1971 Apollo 14 mission along with Alan Shepard Jr. and Stuart Roosa.

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Mitchell was the last Apollo 14 survivor: Roosa died in 1994 and Shepard in 1998.

Speaking in a 1997 interview for NASA's oral history program, Mitchell said that he was drawn to spaceflight after president John F. Kennedy's call to send astronauts to the Moon.

"That's what I wanted because it was the bear going over the mountain to see what he could see, and what could you learn, and I've been devoted to that, to exploration, education and discovery since my earliest years, and that's what kept me going," Mitchell said.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden recalled Mitchell marveling at the stunning view of Earth from space.

"Edgar spoke poetically about seeing our home planet from the Moon saying, 'Suddenly, from behind the rim of the Moon, in long, slow-motion moments of immense majesty, there emerges a sparkling blue and white jewel, a light, delicate sky-blue sphere laced with slowly swirling veils of white, rising gradually like a small pearl in a thick sea of black mystery.

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"'It takes more than a moment to fully realize this is Earth... home.'"

Bolden added: "He is one of the pioneers in space exploration on whose shoulders we now stand."

Buzz Aldrin, the second person on the Moon, echoed that on Twitter, calling Mitchell a "lunar pioneer."

The Apollo 14 mission -- Mitchell's only spaceflight -- began when the trio blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on January 31, 1971.

Mitchell was in charge of piloting the Antares lunar module, which landed in the Fra Mauro region of the Moon.

It was the third manned mission to the Moon and Mitchell became the sixth human to walk on the lunar surface.

During the mission the astronauts collected 100 pounds (40 kilos) of lunar rock samples and carried out a series of experiments.

The mission ended when the astronauts, traveling aboard a space capsule, splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on February 9, 1971.

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In 1972 Mitchell retired from NASA and the following year he founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences, dedicated to the study of consciousness and paranormal phenomena.

He said he believed that extra-terrestrial unidentified flying objects (UFOs) had visited the Earth, but acknowledged that he had never seen one.

Mitchell was the author of several books, including his 1996 memoir, "The Way of the Explorer."

Two daughters, three adopted sons and nine grandchildren are among family who survive him.

The family told The Palm Beach Post newspaper that Mitchell died at a West Palm Beach hospital after a short illness.

Update:

On the eve of the 45th anniversary of his landing on the moon, Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell has died.

Apollo 14, which landed on the moon 45 years ago (Feb. 5, 1971), is well-known for a few stories. Commander Al Shepard

played golf

on the moon. Ed Mitchell, the lunar module pilot, carried out

an ESP experiment during the mission

(without NASA's knowledge or permission) and

radar problems

cropped up during the otherwise successful landing. But in the nearly half-century since, more information about the mission has emerged. A recent example was the

Project Apollo Archive

, an independent effort that put thousands of "forgotten" photos from the Apollo missions up on the photo-sharing service Flickr. Here are a few of the gems pulled from those archives.

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The Apollo astronauts were so far from Earth that they could cover over the entire planet with their thumb. Fun fact: the crescent Earth (1/4 full) you see here hovering above the lunar module displays the opposite phase that the moon would have appeared to Earth at that time (3/4 full). Also, the Earth does not move

across the sky in the same way that the moon does

.

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You can see here the Portable Life Support System (PLSS) that was used to keep astronauts alive on the surface by providing pressure, oxygen and water. The amount of cool air being sent to the astronaut could be changed at the flick of a switch, allowing astronauts to get a little air conditioning when they were moving around vehemently.

The Apollo Lunar Surface Journal says

this was quite effective; Apollo 16 commander John Young later said he was "freezing" while resting with the cooling at an intermediate setting.

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From the lunar module window, the astronauts could see the Modular Equipment Transporter (left) -- a little cart affectionately called "the rickshaw." The 26-pound (Earth weight) cart could

carry more than four times its weight

, which made it fairly useful for rocks and the equipment the astronauts needed to explore the surface. However, the rough lunar terrain sometimes made the wheels get stuck, forcing Mitchell and Shepard to occasionally carry it across the surface.

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The Apollo 14 astronauts took a series of pictures showing how their lunar module, Antares, was positioned on the lunar soil. This let engineers back on Earth know how well the lunar module was performing, which would be crucial given that the LM was expected to carry a heavier load starting with Apollo 15 (the astronauts were staying longer and bringing a lunar buggy with them). Here you can see dust piling up around one of the legs of the LM. While the surface was powdery, the astronauts discovered that the regolith (lunar soil) packed down quickly a few inches below.

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In the foreground of this photo you can see a part of the package of experiments Apollo 14 brought to the moon. Called the

Suprathermal Ion Detector Experiment (SIDE)

, it was intended in part to watch how the solar wind -- the constant stream of particles from the sun -- interacted with the moon as the moon orbited through Earth's magnetic field. SIDE experiments on the moon sometimes detected ions after micrometeroite impacts, which is believed to be gas released by the crash.

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When astronauts head back to the moon, one of their primary concerns will be the dust. No matter how much they tried to brush off the powder when they came back inside the shelter of the LM, some still stuck. Then it tended to get

everywhere

-- hair, experiments, even in astronauts' mouth. On Apollo 17, one astronaut reported getting

a sort of hay fever from the powder

. Several astronauts have reported that the dust smells like gunpowder, but the chemical reactions causing this are under debate.

This is one of a series of shots that Stu Roosa, pilot of the command module, took of Antares flying away with his two crewmates inside. Roosa was expected to spend several days alone in the command module Orion, taking pictures of the moon and standing by in case his crewmates needed to make an emergency exit from the surface. Like most other command module pilots, Roosa said

he didn't mind the solitude

-- and probably in the cramped Apollo spacecraft, room to stretch your legs and go to the bathroom in privacy was a nice luxury.

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Here is a view of the command module as Shepard and Mitchell made their way back from the lunar surface. The command module had undergone some redesigns following a near-fatal explosion on the Apollo 13 spacecraft that damaged the oxygen tank and other vital parts of the spacecraft, and Shepard said he had confidence in what NASA and contractors had done to fix the problem. "It gave us a little higher level of comfort with that extra training time," he said in

an oral history interview in 1998

. "I think obviously the changes to the spacecraft were good ones; not only the changes which related directly to the explosion but others that were made as well. There was a lot of confidence."

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