How Astronaut Edgar Mitchell Nearly Crashed on the Moon
by Richard Poe
Monday, February 22, 2016
12:15 pm Eastern Time
AS MENTIONED in yesterday’s post, I conducted many hours of in-depth interviews with astronaut Edgar Mitchell during the 1990s, drawing on this material for a number of writing projects.
Here’s an excerpt from my book WAVE 3, in which I describe Dr. Mitchell’s dangerous descent to the moon, as Apollo 14 lunar module pilot in 1971.
Excerpted from WAVE 3: The New Era in Network Marketing by Richard Poe.
Edgar Mitchell knew it was “sweaty palm time.” That’s astronaut jargon for a moment when survival hangs in the balance. The Apollo 14 lunar module had fired its engines at 60,000 feet and begun its descent to the moon. For the first 30,000 feet, all went well. Then it happened.
“You’re not locked on,” said the calm voice from mission control.
Their landing radar wasn’t working. The astronauts were flying blind. A miscalculation could send their fragile spacecraft smashing into the rocky surface. The safe thing would have been to abort the mission. But the astronauts never considered that for a moment.
“We were very goal-oriented,” Mitchell recalls. “After coming all that way, we would almost rather have crashed on the moon than busted the mission.”
So they continued their descent.
Even the tiniest circuit in the lunar module had been tested and retested; procedures had been devised for each emergency; and backups existed for every system. No variable had been left to chance. But in the end, the mission hung upon the courage, training,
and discipline of the crew.
Guided by the voice from the radio, the astronauts worked like madmen, toggling switches, punching in computer programs, their eyes sweeping the instrument panel in practiced scan patterns. They had only one minute in which to get the radar working. After that, they would be too close to the moon. They would have to turn back.
Mitchell remembers going into a state of detachment—almost as if he were separated from his body, viewing events from a great distance. No thought of danger or death entered his mind. Only the deep ecstasy of performing at his peak.
“I was totally focused on the task at hand,” Mitchell recalls.
Barely seconds before the cut-off point, the radar suddenly switched on. They were minutes away from landing. Mitchell guided them in. Out the window, they saw the dust kicked up by their thrust, their spacecraft’s lengthening shadow on the ground. The surface warning light told them their landing pads had touched down. They
were on the moon.
“The main thing I felt,” Mitchell recalls, “was a great sense of relief.”