The space programme of the 1960s and 1970s had a profound effect on the psyche of its astronauts, and indeed upon us all. For the first time we could really see the beauty, the wholeness and yet the vulnerability of our planet.
I first became aware of Edgar (Ed) Mitchell as an astronaut, the sixth man to walk on the moon as part of the NASA mission Apollo 14 in February 1971. That experience changed his whole perspective on life, as reported by Cassandra Vieten in a recent ‘in memoriam’ following his death in 2014. Contemplating the earth and its history from space, he ‘was engulfed by a profound sense of universal connectedness’.
“I realized that the story of ourselves as told by science—our cosmology, our religion— was incomplete and likely flawed. I recognized that the Newtonian idea of separate, independent, discreet things in the universe wasn’t a fully accurate description. What was needed was a new story of who we are and what we are capable of becoming.”
As a scientist and engineer, Mitchell had grown accustomed to directing his attention to the objective world “out there.” But this experience from space had a profound effect.
“My understanding of the distinct separateness and relative independence of movement of those cosmic bodies was shattered. I was overwhelmed with the sensation of physically and mentally extending out into the cosmos. The restraints and boundaries of flesh and bone fell away…”
This experience led him to the idea that ‘reality is more complex, subtle, and mysterious than explained by conventional science, and a deeper understanding of consciousness was needed’.
After retiring from NASA in 1972, Mitchell founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS), which aimed to sponsor research into the nature of consciousness. I first became aware of IONS maybe 20 years ago and was delighted to find an organisation in the US which had a similar breadth of interest on the boundaries between science and consciousness as that I had earlier found in the UK through the Scientific & Medical Network.
Being essentially UK based I have only admired the work of IONS from afar, but the organisation is clearly still going strong and has achieved much over more than 40 years since its foundation. For more detail on just how influential Ed Mitchell and IONS have been over the years, I recommend you read Cassandra Vieten’s words in full.
The study of, and hence truer understanding of, consciousness will result in profound change to our world.
Pictures courtesy of NASA