Former Apollo astronaut Edgar Mitchell made news recently with claims about UFOs and alien cover-ups. Though Mitchell said he never saw any UFOs during his time with NASA, he believes stories he has heard from others about the 1947 crash in Roswell, New Mexico.
"There was a UFO crash. There was an alien spacecraft," Mitchell confirmed.
He also accused the government of a cover-up (though the cover-up was apparently inept, because the military actually issued a press release saying that a flying saucer had crashed!).
Mitchell not only believes in aliens, but also psychics. In his book "The Way of the Explorer," Mitchell discusses his belief in psychic powers, including those of Uri Geller (whom Mitchell calls "one of the most accomplished psychics I have ever met"), whose claim to fame is his alleged ability to bend spoons—a feat that magicians have duplicated many times. Mitchell also believes that young children can bend spoons, "innocent children who had not yet learned that it could not be done." According to Mitchell, the "impossible" is possible if you don't know your limitations—sort of like how when Elmer Fudd walks off a cliff onto thin air, he doesn't fall until Bugs Bunny points out that it's impossible.
Mitchell also supported a teenager named Adam Dreamhealer who claimed to cure cancer and heal people using his hands, mind, and mystical energies. According to a segment on the "Primetime" TV show, "There are physicists who believe there's something to this," and Mitchell was interviewed, saying he recognized the "science" in Dreamhealer's work. "It's about channeling energy and resonating with the person….The principles of quantum physics explain many of these intuitive mystical aspects of attention and intention," said Mitchell, who (despite being identified by "Primetime" as a physicist and a "doctor") is neither a physicist nor a medical doctor.
In his book, Mitchell writes, "As I studied the beliefs of mystics, and psychic phenomena, it became absolutely clear to me that first-person experience, the subjective… was just as important to understanding reality as the third-person observations of science." In other words, Mitchell believes that dream experiences (or the hallucinations of a person high on drugs) are just as useful in understanding the world as the results of carefully-controlled scientific experiments.
It's hard to fathom any working scientist actually believing this, but that's Mitchell's point of view.
Mitchell was interested in all this before he went to the moon. [Unknown to NASA and his crew mates, he conducted an ESP experiment during the trip to and from the Moon in which he attempted to transmit his thoughts through space to a handful of test subjects on Earth.] He became even more intrigued with the mysteries of the universe on his return trip from the moon, when he "had a deep realization that humankind dwells in a universe of consciousness."
It's easy to see how such a profound and exciting experience as walking on the moon might influence your views on the world. Mitchell is certainly entitled to his opinions, but being the sixth man to walk on the moon doesn't necessarily bestow insights into psychic healing, ESP, or UFOs.
The late great astronomer Carl Sagan, a staunch science advocate and defender of critical thinking, was also in awe of the universe. But he ascribed nothing metaphysical or supernatural to the feeling; as he wrote in his book "Cosmos": "We are star stuff."
Sagan found knowing that we are made of the same elements as the tiny points of light in the night sky is far more awe-inspiring than any psychics or UFO claims.
Benjamin Radford is managing editor of the Skeptical Inquirer science magazine. He wrote about the media and pop culture in his book "Media Mythmakers: How Journalists, Activists, and Advertisers Mislead Us." His books, films, and other projects can be found on his website.