The focus of our conversation was the 34 hours that Mitchell had spent on the moon in 1971 as a member of the crew of Apollo 14, but it was the return journey to earth that seemed to have left a far deeper mark on him. Watching the moon, the earth, and the infinity of space pass before his eyes, Mitchell had a profound experience of the universe as 'intelligent, loving, harmonious' - an experience that had determined his life's work in attempting to reconcile science and mysticism.
Part of this has been an abiding interest in the paranormal.
Shortly after his return to earth, Mitchell told me, he had learned of a young Israeli named Uri Geller who was said to have demonstrated remarkable paranormal gifts. This, of course, was some time before Geller became internationally known. Mitchell invited Geller to the Stanford Research Institute to conduct a series of tests. These were mostly to do with 'remote viewing' (out-of-body travel) where random 'targets' were selected and Geller was asked to describe the unknown object. His success rate, Mitchell told me, was surprisingly high. Geller also demonstrated his now famous ability to bend spoons.
But the truly remarkable thing happened outside the laboratory. Mitchell had left his camera on the moon two years earlier, and challenged Geller to prove his telekinetic abilities by recovering it. Despite Geller's best efforts, the camera failed to materialise. Two days later, however, while eating in the canteen, Geller bit into something that cut his lip. It turned out to be one half of a tie-clip that Mitchell had lost some years earlier. That afternoon, alone in the lab, Mitchell heard the sound of something falling on the floor. It turned out to be other half of the tie-clip. Later on in the day Mitchell and a colleague glimpsed something else that appeared to have materialised out of thin air fall to the floor. It was a pearl tie-pin that Mitchell kept in the same jewellery box as the tie-clip.
Reading the look of incredulity on my face, Mitchell rose from the table where we were sitting and left the room, reappearing a few minutes later carrying a plastic zip-loc bag, the contents of which he emptied onto the table. There was the pearl tie-pin, the two halves of the tie-clip and a selection of bent dessert spoons. He invited me to bend one of them back into shape. Of course, I couldn't.
'Now do you believe me?', he asked with a laugh.