Death of Last Astronaut on Moon Reminds Us to Press Forward

No more than 80 Silver Robbins Medallions were flown aboard Apollo 17, inscribed with the names of crew members Gene Cernan, Ron Evans and Harrison Schmitt. This example, from the personal collection of astronaut Alan Bean, sold for $59,375 at a May 2014 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

On Jan. 16, 2017, Eugene Andrew Cernan, the last NASA astronaut to walk on the surface of the moon, died in a Houston hospital. His historic flight on Apollo 17 lasted from Dec. 7 to Dec. 19, 1972, and man has not been back since then. Cernan was 82 years old and the first astronaut to be buried at Texas State Cemetery.

Eight space missions visited the moon between 1968 and 1972 as part of NASA’s Apollo program. Each mission carried three American astronauts inside a spacecraft launched by a Saturn V rocket. Apollo 8 was used to test the spacecraft as it orbited the moon. Then, in a dress rehearsal prior to landing, Apollo 10 flew close to the lunar surface.

Cernan

The first of the six missions that successfully landed on the moon was Apollo 11 in 1969. Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touched down in July of that year, with Armstrong the first to actually walk on the lunar surface. Just 27 daredevil astronauts made that same remarkable trip and a total of 12 walked on the cratered, lifeless surface.

The Apollo astronauts were blasted into space inside the nose cone of the largest rocket ever built, the Saturn V. It was designed by Wernher von Braun and Arthur Rudolph at Huntsville, Ala., and remains the tallest, heaviest and most powerful rocket brought into full operational status. It was developed as “Operation Paperclip,” a special program using German rocket engineers and approved by President Harry S. Truman in 1945 to leverage their expertise in building Nazi Germany’ V-2 rocket.

Von Braun had started in the U.S. Army after World War II and then transferred when the National Aeronautical and Space Administration was established in 1958 in response to the Russian Sputnik panic. He then became director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, where they designed the Saturn V. After President John F. Kennedy’s promise to land a man on the moon, von Braun and his team ensured that the United States would win the space race against the Soviet Union.

The giant Saturn V rocket – 40 feet taller than the full Statue of Liberty – consisted of three rockets in one. The first two stages lifted the Apollo spacecraft into space and the third stage put Apollo on course after reaching low Earth orbit. Apollo also had three sections: command, service and lunar modules. All were linked together for the 250,000-mile journey. Once there, the lunar module took two astronauts to the moon’s surface and back. All three astronauts then returned to Earth in the command module. Its conical shape allowed it to withstand the heat of reentry into Earth’s atmosphere for an easy splashdown.

Each night, the moon looms over Earth, peering down and wondering when to expect the next visitors. Perhaps it will be Mars instead. Space … the final frontier!

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Our Planet is a Truly Remarkable Piece of Real Estate

A 1968 “Earthrise” photo signed by the Apollo 8 and Apollo 11 crews sold for $16,730 at a November 2010 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In a little-known experiment, a graduate student at the University of Chicago hooked up two test tubes containing water (the “ocean”) and a mixture of methane, ammonia and hydrogen (the “atmosphere”). A few days later, after a few electrical sparks to simulate lightening, there was a goopy broth of organic compounds … “life.” His professor, Nobel Laureate Harold Urey, reportedly exclaimed, “If God didn’t do it this way, he missed a good bet!”

This theory has since been dismissed since Earth didn’t have these inputs available that early.

The experiment happened in 1953 and more than a half-century later, there is still no certainty on how life actually began on this planet. Famous people like Lord Kelvin (1871) have suggested it came from outer space via aliens or comets. But that theory – panspermia – doesn’t answer the basic question; it just moves it to some distant location. But there is general consensus that life on Earth started about 3.5 billion years ago.

Rather than pursue how life started, NASA in the 1960s assembled a team to think about how to look for life … on Mars. British scientist James Lovelock decided to solve the problem by identifying the necessary features for life on Earth. He started with water, since all life depends on it. Then he specified that the average temperature must stay between 60 and 65 degrees to ensure it remained liquid, as it has for the past 3.5 billion years.

Next was salinity, since cells cannot survive levels above 5 percent and the oceans have remained at about 3.4 percent. Oxygen is another must-have element, but close to the 20 percent when it first appeared 2 billion years ago … 16 percent to 20 percent for breathing, but below 25 percent because at that level, forest fires would never go out.

Eventually, Lovelock suggested that the entire planet makes up a single, self-regulating being which he called Gaia. The very presence of life regulates the temperature of the surface, the concentration of oxygen and the chemical composition of the oceans.

Voilà … the perfect conditions for life.

However, Lovelock also warned that the human impact on the environment may disrupt this delicate balance. As early as 1935, another British scientist, Arthur Tansley, described Earth lifeforms, landscapes and climate as a giant ecosystem.

Personally, each time I see pictures of Earth taken from space – this astonishing blue orb suspended in space – it reminds me just how insignificant we are. Relative to the enormity of the ever-expanding universe, we live on a truly remarkable piece of real estate. I hope we can maintain the balance Lovelock identified. Moving isn’t an option … yet.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Luftwaffe’s Incendiary Bombs Devastated British Treasures

A first edition of John Dalton’s A New System of Chemical Philosophy (Manchester: S. Russell, 1808-10) sold for $7,812.50 at an October 2013 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

“Peace for our time” was proudly announced by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain after signing the Munich Pact in 1938. This agreement effectively conceded the annexation of the Sudetenland regions of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany in the hope it would quell Adolf Hitler’s appetite for European expansion. Today, it is universally regarded as a naive act of appeasement as Germany promptly invaded Poland.

A full year before, the British Museum had located a deserted, remote mine to store their priceless treasures in anticipation of war. Other institutions like the Victoria and Albert Museum and the National Gallery joined in by relocating historic records, manuscripts and artwork. Steel racks were constructed to store boxes and other containers, while shelves were hollowed out of solid rock walls. Special consideration was given to maintaining proper humidity, temperature and delicate atmospheric pressure. It turned out to be a prudent strategy.

However, despite all the frenzied planning, once the bombing started, there were simply too many British libraries to protect and the Germans were using special incendiary bombs designed to ignite buildings rather than destroy them. The effect was devastating and before the war ended more than one million rare volumes were destroyed.

One particularly perplexing example was the remarkable library of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society (the famous “Lit & Phil”), England’s oldest scientific society. Alas, this included one of the most fascinating and least-known scientists, John Dalton.

Dalton

Dalton was born in 1766 and was so exceptionally bright he was put in charge of his Quaker school at the improbable age of 12. He was already reading one of the most difficult books to comprehend – Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia – in the original Latin! Later, at Manchester, he was an intellectual whirlwind, producing books and papers ranging from meteorology to grammar. But it was a thick tome titled A New System of Chemical Philosophy that established his lasting reputation. In a short chapter of just five pages (out of 900), people of learning first encountered something approaching modern conception. His astounding insight was that at the root of all matter are exceedingly tiny, irreducible particles. Today, we call them atoms.

The great physicist Richard Feynman famously observed that the most important scientific knowledge is the simple fact that all things are made of atoms. They are everywhere and they constitute everything. Look around you. It is all atoms … and they are in numbers you really can’t conceive.

When Dalton died in 1844, about 40,000 people viewed the coffin and the funeral cortège stretched for two miles. His entry in the Dictionary of National Biography is one of the longest, rivalled by only Charles Darwin and a few others.

Shame on the Luftwaffe for destroying so much of his original work. It is somehow comforting to know they weren’t bombed out of existence since their atoms are now merely part of something else … somewhere in our universe.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Science Tends to March On, Despite Public Opinion Polls

aldous-huxley-brave-new-world-london-chatto-windus-1932
A 1932 first edition of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, with its custom leather clamshell box, sold for $3,585 at an October 2008 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The healthy, lusty cry that emanated from a delivery room in a British mill town hospital at precisely 11:47 on a summer night in 1978 brought joy to Lesley and John Brown. Since their marriage in 1969, the couple had wanted a baby and now they had one, thanks to $1,500 John won betting on football. There was also the brilliance of two British doctors who became the first physicians to create a test-tube baby. They had been unsuccessful in 80 previous tries.

The formal term for the method that produced little 6-pound Louise Brown was IVF – “in vitro fertilization” (literally “in glass”), but “test tube” better fit the imagination that was running wild around the world. With the news, people began recalling Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel Brave New World and its vision of a society where “babies are mass produced from chemical solutions in laboratory bottles.”

Actually, Louise was nothing close to this concept. She represented the union of John’s sperm and Lesley’s egg, and was carried to term by her mother as other babies were. Only the joining of the ingredients had been done in a lab. The incipient embryo was transferred back to Lesley, where it implanted itself on the wall of the hormone-prepared uterus.

The moral and legal implications touched off incendiary debates when the news from Britain spread. And the fact the story came from a hysterical tabloid (the Browns sold the story rights to the Daily Mail for $500,000) took the episode further into the realm of science-fiction.

The clergy were unanimous against “baby factories” and scientists “playing God” – but the issue was overtaken in the headlines by women’s rights, feminism, industrial abuses of the environment (Earth Day), fossil fuels and materialism. Climate change, and income and wealth inequality battles were on the way.

In August 1998, I hosted a PepsiCo dinner for the Scottish scientists from the Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh) who had just cloned the first mammal from an adult somatic cell, the famous Dolly the Sheep. Dolly was born on July 5, 1996, and the great controversy this time was “designer babies.” As I recall, they suspected the Koreans would be the first to attempt humans, but the only ones I’ve read about are pigs, deer, horses and bulls.

I think Dolly died just before her seventh birthday from a lung disease – living about half as long as hoped. I assume little Louise Brown must have 5 to 10 million IVF cousins by now.

Science marches on, despite public opinion polls.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

We Should Let Geniuses Do What Geniuses Do

Thomas Alva Edison Photograph Signed
This signed photograph of Thomas Alva Edison, taken sometime around 1910, realized nearly $3,900 at an April 2013 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Thomas Alva Edison was awarded about 1,100 patents in the United States and more than double that worldwide.

They are generally grouped into categories that include electric power, telegraphy/telephony, recorded sounds, batteries, cement and motion pictures. His practice of keeping meticulous records to protect his intellectual property became the “gold standard” for future scientists, engineers and inventors in general.

Naturally, he made a lot of money, which proved useful when some of his ideas turned out to be expensive commercial failures. At times, he appeared to lack practical sense or perhaps he lacked the “Steve Jobs gene” when it involved customer preference. Another more plausible explanation is that he simply did not care, period.

One of the more interesting examples is his refusal to adopt the concept of movie theaters (people might sneak in without paying), so he held out for hand-crank, peep-show boxes. In 1908, he confidently predicted that airplanes had no viable future (the Wright brothers disagreed).

Then he became mesmerized by the possibilities for concrete and formed the Edison Portland Cement Company and built a huge factory. By 1907, Edison was the fifth-largest cement producer in the world and had four dozen patents to make a better cement, some of which was used to build Yankee Stadium.

But his abiding passion was to fill the world with cement houses.

The concept was to pour concrete into giant molds to form walls and floors, followed by baths, sinks, cabinets, toilets and even picture frames. A four-man team could build a new house every two days for $1,200 (one-third the cost of traditional structures).

The concept was scheduled to be showcased at a cement industry convention in 1912 in New York. However, when the show opened, the Edison exhibit was empty and Thomas Edison never discussed the issue publicly. There was also no word on the fate of the cement piano that was scheduled to be exhibited.

He was now interested in modernizing war and casually predicted he would be able to induce comas in enemy troops through the use of “electrically charged atomizers.” It is not clear how this idea was abandoned. He also worked on a plan to build giant electromagnets to catch enemy bullets in flight and then “return to sender.” It was another mysterious project that was abandoned.

One last example was a heavy investment in an automated general store where customers would insert coins into slots and then bags of coal, onions, nails or potatoes would come sliding down the chute. The system never worked. It never came close to working.

If you believe in reincarnation, then there is a good chance Thomas Edison is back. This time his name is Jeff Bezos, who had a nutty idea about selling books over the internet and now owns a major print newspaper and is in a race to conquer outer space, since NASA has scaled back. Elon Musk has managed to find time to enter the rocket business, too, while he tinkers with electric cars and batteries.

Our country seems to be blessed when it comes to producing geniuses. Let’s hope the government doesn’t put up too many regulations or red tape as we go hurtling into the future.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Despite Cataclysms, Life Continues – But How Did It All Begin?

Fossil Amphibian with Larvae
The fossilized remains of amphibians from the Permian Period routinely are offered at auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Scientists generally assume the planets were formed by the accretion of dust and gas in a cosmic cloud, but the length of time this process takes is hard to estimate. Our little orb acquired its present size about 4.5 billion years ago (some use 4.6) and life originated about 2 billion years ago. We don’t know how it got started or if it exists elsewhere, but we do know that life goes on (so far).

A recent book, The Worst of Times by Paul B. Wignall, examines the extinction of life with the most notable events dubbed “The Big 5.” The largest one occurred at the end of the Permian Period – 252 million years ago – when 95 percent of all animals and one-third of insect species went extinct. It was the closest all us earthlings have come to total obliteration.

The next mass extinction was 210 million years ago at the end of the Triassic Period. This time, 70 percent to 75 percent of all life vanished.

Despite these and other cataclysms, the simple fact that life is so abundant demonstrates the difficulty in ending it. This may be the first time in our history that the power to eradicate life ourselves exists. Hopefully, we will be wise enough to avoid this.

One interesting observation is that for the first 99 percent of human history, we didn’t do much more than survive and procreate. Then a remarkable but still unexplained era began, when people all over the world discovered farming, writing, architecture, irrigation and even governance.

We call this the Neolithic Revolution. Scientists can tell us where it happened and when, but they cannot explain precisely why.

The puzzling aspect is that it happened among people who had no idea that others in distant places were doing precisely the same things. Farming was started independently seven times – China, New Guinea, the Middle East, the Andes, the Amazon basin, Mexico and West Africa – all without any possibility of shared contact.

When Hernán Cortés landed in Mexico, he found roads, canals, palaces, courts, markets, irrigation works, kings, priests, art, music and books – all independent of similar developments on other continents.

It is tempting to think of this as a global lightbulb event, but most developments involve long periods of trial and error. The tempo of progress has been unpredictable and erratic. Clearly, there was no master plan, yet humans conquered the disadvantages of geographic isolation, variable conditions and diverse cultures.

Contrast that with today’s billions of people constantly communicating, replicating and innovating. The world has become very small in comparison. The rate of change and increase in knowledge is directly proportional to the increase in Internet connectivity.

NASA has defined “life” as 1. Metabolize + 2. Reproduce + 3. Evolve = Life. Now if we could just discover how it started.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

What’s the Incentive for the Further Exploration of Titan?

CHESLEY BONESTELL Saturn Viewed from Titan, c. 1952
Chesley Bonestell’s oil on board Saturn Viewed from Titan, circa 1952, realized $77,675 at a May 2010 Heritage auction. Bonestell’s paintings are credited with helping to inspire the U.S. space program.

By Jim O’Neal

In addition to mighty Jupiter, there are three outer planets: Saturn, Neptune and Uranus. Astronomers generally call them gas giants, though they consist mostly of liquid and have solid cores.

The four have a lot in common including numerous moons, deep stormy atmospheres and rings that consist of rock or ice flakes. Today, we take a brief look at one of them, Saturn, since we’ve gained a lot of valuable scientific information about it in the past 10-plus years.

For starters, it is the second-largest planet (after Jupiter) and about 10 times the size of Earth’s diameter. It shines like a bright yellow star and its most famous feature is a magnificent ring system that is easily seen with a common telescope.

What makes Saturn even more interesting is information gathered from the Cassini spacecraft, which has been orbiting the planet since 2004. On Jan. 14, 2005, a probe from Cassini landed on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. The Huygens probe marked mankind’s first landing on a body in the Outer Solar System.

The mission was to monitor Titan’s atmosphere and surface.

Titan turns out to be one of the most Earth-like worlds we’ve found to date, with a thick atmosphere and organic, rich chemistry. Cassini has revealed that Titan’s surface is shaped by rivers and lakes of liquid ethane and methane (the main component of natural gas). It appears volcano-like with perhaps liquid water under an ice shell playing the role of lava.

It is analogous to a frozen version of Earth … before our cyanobacteria began pumping oxygen into our atmosphere. Scientists speculate there may be a huge liquid ocean beneath the surface. All we would need then would be to find there a few sunken Spanish galleons loaded with gold coins to spark a new numismatic frenzy!

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Albert Einstein was Much More than a Scientist

Albert Einstein Photograph Signed
This signed Albert Einstein photograph realized $17,500 at an October 2014 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Mention the name Albert Einstein and instinctively the image of the iconic scientist with the unruly hair, pensive expression and the word “genius” spring to mind. As a theoretical physicist, his work on general relativity is a theory of gravitation that has evolved into a crucial tool in modern astrophysics and is foundational for current “black hole” research.

In popular culture, his mass-energy equivalence formula of energy equals mass multiplied by the speed of light squared (E = mc2) is generally regarded as “the world’s most famous equation.”

Then, of course, there was Einstein the mortal man.

This aspect is understandably less well known despite his empathy for mankind and the practical application of both his intellect and celebrity to help improve the world and its inhabitants. He was an avowed pacifist who considered war a “disease” and even advocated for a global democratic government that had control over the nation-states (e.g. Nazi Germany).

He viewed racism in the United States as a multi-generational problem and joined the NAACP as an activist to help cure “America’s worst disease.”

An earlier incident in 1925 even led to a series of related activities that eventually helped defeat the Germans in World War II. While reading a local German newspaper, he saw a tragic story about a couple that had died from leaking gases used in early refrigerators.

Einstein collaborated with fellow physicist Leo Szilard and they received patent #1,781,541 for an improved, safer refrigerator. Although they later sold it to Electrolux for 3,150 DM ($10,000), Einstein’s basic motive was to simply improve living standards for common people. BTW, he later invented a hearing aid for the same reason.

When Szilard immigrated to London, he ran across a book by H.G. Wells, The World Set Free, which describes an invention (unnamed) that could accelerate the process of radioactive decay, producing bombs which “continue to explode for days on end.” This inspired Szilard to develop the concept of a nuclear chain reaction in 1933 and then he patented the idea of a nuclear reactor with the famous Italian physicist Enrico Fermi. Basically, he had a patent on the first atomic bomb.

But, in 1936 Szilard sold/assigned his chain-reaction patent to the British Admiralty to ensure its secrecy from the Germans or others considered untrustworthy.

He later suspected the Germans had a clandestine nuclear weapon project and on the eve of World War II drafted a letter to FDR to alert him to the potential development “of extremely powerful bombs of a new type.” He got Einstein to endorse it and to urge the United States to begin similar research.

This inevitably led to the Manhattan Project, which preempted the Germans and saved the world in the eyes of most experts.

Although Einstein supported the development of nuclear weapons to defend the Allies, he denounced the use of nuclear weapons as an offensive force. He never renounced his resolve as a pacifist or as an agnostic.

In 1999, Time magazine named Albert Einstein their choice as “Person of the Century.”

I hope we get one for this century … soon.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

‘Black Death’ is a Grim Reminder: Never Trust a Dirty Rat

Philip Ziegler. The Black Death. The Folio Society, 1999. Third printing.
A Folio Society 1999 edition of Philip Ziegler’s The Black Death went to auction in November 2012.

By Jim O’Neal

In five short years beginning in 1347, one-third of Europe – 25 million people – died of the bubonic plague. Many villages and towns lost 80 percent of their populations. A world that had just emerged from the Dark Ages and was moving into a new era was, suddenly, pockmarked with deserted farms, collapsed churches and zombie-like survivors.

Bubonic plague changed world history and mankind in ways that linger to this day. All subsequent epidemics – small pox, cholera, influenza and AIDS – are grim reminders of the terror of the “Black Death” and the specter of a world strewn with bodies and people defenseless against an invisible killer.

Although it wasn’t known at the time, the cause was a rat flea, Xenopsylla cheopis (X. cheopis), a ravenous creature that lived on black rats and other rodents. X. cheopis carried the virulent plague bacillus and it came in two forms, both deadly to humans.

One was from direct contact via a flea bite, which was followed by a black purple bruising and a mortality rate of 60 percent in as little as five to seven days. The predominant form was pneumonic, which spread from person to person by air, infecting the lungs, with death in two to three days.

It had started deep in Asia, where China was in a war with the Mongols that devastated great swaths of the countryside. Infected rats, no longer able to find food in the forests, headed to populated areas, where the disease spread rapidly.

By the 1330s, China had lost 35 million people out of 125 million. Then X. cheopis began to travel with traders across Mongolia and Central Asia. In 1345, the plague hit the lower Volga River, followed by the Caucasus and Crimea before finally arriving in Italy in the summer of 1347.

The disease arrived in London in November and killed one-third to half of the total population within three days. The population of England and Wales was 6 million people.

After a quiet winter, it sprung up again in 1349, burning through England to Scotland, leaping to Ireland and crossing the sea to Scandinavia. After devastating Moscow in 1852, it exhausted itself on the barren/empty Russian Steppes.

The plague returned in 1362 in numerous, smaller recurrences until the 1600s. Another wave of plague swept through Asia in the 19th century and it was then that the role of both X. cheopis and the Y. pestis bacteria was discovered.

Although the last plague pandemic was contained, hundreds of plague cases are reported each year since X. cheopis still exists in remote wild rodents, perhaps with yet another strategy to plague us. Despite the advent of curative antibiotics, Black Death is still lurking … somewhere.

Do you know what’s in your attic?

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Edgar Mitchell Was An American Space Hero

lfOTM9ZQSHThe Intelligent Collector learned today that Edgar Mitchell, the sixth of 12 American astronauts to walk on the moon, died Thursday. Editor Hector Cantu interviewed Mitchell for our Spring 2008 issue, with excerpts re-published here to recognize and honor an American hero:

● ● ●

As lunar module pilot for Apollo 14, Edgar Mitchell was the sixth man to walk on the moon. With Alan Shepard, he holds the record for the longest time on the surface for missions without the Lunar Rover – nine hours and 17 minutes. The 1971 mission, the third Apollo mission to land on the moon, had numerous other accomplishments: the first mission focused on lunar science, longest distance traversed on foot on the lunar surface, and the largest payload returned from the moon, 99 pounds. Mitchell remained with NASA until he retired from the Navy in 1972.

Q: How did walking on the moon change your life?
Mitchell: Walking on the moon did not, but seeing Earth from deep space in its place in the larger picture of the cosmos did. I realized and experienced at a visceral level that the molecules making up my body, the spacecraft, Earth and everything in and on it were made in an ancient generation of stars … and that everything is interconnected. It was a powerful epiphany that has caused quite a different approach to living for me.

Q: You returned from space more than 35 years ago. Are we as humans where you thought we’d be 35 years later, as far as exploring space and landing on other planets?
Mitchell: When getting my doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the early 1960s, I thought [humans] might be ready for a trip to Mars by 1982. Clearly, that did not happen.

Q: What did you collect as a kid?
Mitchell: I was not a collector. My hobby was building model aircraft when I wasn’t working. [Today, I have a] collection of space flight memorabilia from my astronaut days, plus mementos from my travels to many parts of the globe during the past 40 years.

Q: What’s the most valuable item you had when you were growing up?
Mitchell: My pony. Following that, the calves that I raised, shown at the county fairs and sold at auction as a 4H Club member. We were a farm and ranching family.

Q: What kind of personal items did NASA allow you to take into space?
Mitchell: Any small, lightweight personal items for the family and friends like medallions, flags, rings, pins, broaches. For example, I carried for Gen. Omar Bradley his five-star collar insignia from World War II. And we carried a significant number of state and national flags for distribution to dignitaries and government officials.

Q: Explain the comments you’ve made about UFOs. What do you believe?
Mitchell: My own investigations, plus briefings by competent authorities at appropriate levels, allow me to know that we have been visited by alien beings. I have not been reticent to say that in appropriate circumstances.

Q: What is your passion these days?
Mitchell: My life is now about creating a sustainable future on Earth for my progeny and all life. We as a species are not currently being proper caretakers for planet Earth and will surely come to regret our short-sightedness in the near future, when it may be too late.