He's one of only 12 men in history -- and eight that are still living -- who set foot on the moon during the Apollo space flights conducted by
This weekend, Mitchell will land in
"The opportunity to shake hands with one of these guys is only getting rarer," said
Mitchell will also give a talk at a dinner Friday evening that will serve as the official launch of the science museum's
When the American astronaut program began, he shaped his career toward becoming part of it, earning a doctor of science in Aeronautics and Astronautics from the
He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1970 for his efforts on the ground to help the astronauts on the malfunctioning Apollo 13 mission return safely home from space. His career reached its culmination in
Controversially (though curiously appropriate for a man from
Much less controversially, he's a member of the
Last week, Mitchell agreed to answer a few questions via telephone.
What was it like being on the moon?
What more can an explorer want? ... To go where humans haven't been, look around, gather data, come back and tell the people. That's what explorers do.
I guess the great surprise that many of us had was the fact that the back side looks quite different from the front side because of the fact that the same side of the moon faces the Earth at all times, and the lava flows from the early period came out on the front side and filled the craters and the ancients thought those were oceans. They called them "maria." What they are is really craters filled with black material ... pummeled up to talcum powder fineness. On the back side it's more like sand. Only once we got there and got pictures did we realize that was the case.
Did you guys do anything like set up a flag or play golf?
Every mission had a flag on a pole, with a little metal rod at the top to make it look like it's flying all the time. All crews set those up.
Were you able to see the Earth from where you were?
In order to really see it, you had to hang onto ... the leg of the spacecraft and lean way back because it was directly overhead ... and when you were standing on the surface in the pressure suit you couldn't look directly overhead.
How stressful was the trip up?
We had practiced and practiced and practiced in simulators, and ... simulated the surface activity at
What are your thoughts on the space program today?
One of my major concerns is that our global civilizations is not on a sustainable path. ... Population explosion is out of control. Use of non-renewable resources is out of control. We as a species are going to have to make a strong resolution to create a substainable civilization or we're not going to be around here for another century. ... And in due course, as we all know, our star has a finite lifetime, and so sooner or later, whether we're sustainable or not, we're going to have to be off this planet, and that means using technology to do so ... in my opinion, since I work on it all the time, discovering how to use zero-point energy, which is the basic energy of the universe.
Your research goes into a number of territories that are regarded with skepticism in some circles.
That's what's fun about it. We're breaking down barriers and finding things. That's what science is all about: new discovery. ... There's nothing that we have done or have demonstrated that doesn't have good science behind it. Skeptics be damned.
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