Alan Bean: Moon-Walking Astronaut-Turned-Painter Dies Aged 86

The fourth man to set foot on the Moon; the astronaut who spent 59 days in space; and the man who devoted his post-astronaut life to art is no more | the world mourns his loss

Alan Bean: Moon-Walking Astronaut-Turned-Painter Dies Aged 86

Alan Bean – accomplished astronaut, moonwalker, painter, doting husband, and father is no more!

Bean, the fourth man out of a total of twelve to have set foot on our planet’s only natural satellite, Moon, breathed his last on Saturday at the Houston Methodist Hospital.

He had been suffering from a sudden illness that afflicted him two weeks prior to his death. He was 86.

“Alan was the strongest and kindest man I ever knew. He was the love of my life and I miss him dearly,” Leslie Bean, the astronaut’s wife of forty years, said in a statement. “A native Texan, Alan died peacefully in Houston surrounded by those who loved him.”

Bean first flew into space as a lunar module pilot on Apollo 12, in November 1969, and within a matter of mere seconds into the flight, he proved his invaluable worth to the mission when the booster of the Saturn V rocket carrying the Apollo Command Module was hit by lightning.

Bean’s quick thinking and presence of mind saved the day for the crew, and the mission – which would otherwise have been aborted, or, worse still, ended in disaster – was able to continue on its way to orbit; and, that is how NASA was able to conquer the moon for the second time.

Bean, who spent more than 31 hours on the moon, said it was hard for him to believe that he was actually there and that the Earth was above him.

In a 2016 interview with the National Public Radio (NPR), he recalled saying to himself, “You know, this is really the moon. We’re really here. … That’s the Earth up there.’ And I said it two or three times to myself.”

His time on the moon was spent collecting specimen and conducting tests along with mission commander Charles “Pete” Conrad Jr. The duo also took stock of Surveyor 3, which had made moonfall, if you will, two years earlier.

On his second space mission in 1973, Bean would spend 59 days in low Earth orbit aboard the Skylab space station with two other crew members, experimenting with extended-duration spaceflights.

Although bean remained with NASA until 1981, he declined the offer to fly the agency’s first shuttle flights into space, magnanimously making way for the next generation of young astronauts.

“I loved being an astronaut; I was thinking about flying the space shuttle, but I said, you know, there are a lot of young men and women around who can fly the space shuttle just as good as I can or better,” he later said.

“But there’s no one around that’s been to the Moon that took part in one of humankind’s great adventures, that wants to represent it in another way.”

His reference to “another way” of representing “humankind’s great adventures” turned out to be painting, which gave expression to his space experiences in a way that no video, audio or stills could ever have done.

So dedicated was the man who walked the moon to his rejuvenated love for painting that he took night lessons on the subject, in order to gain the expertise that would allow him to do something he had always wanted to devote his full time towards.

And, that’s exactly what he did, devoting four decades of his retirement years in chronicling the moon missions and his space experiences, with nothing but paintbrush on canvas.

“I feel blessed every day when I’m working on these paintings … the first artist to ever go to another world and try to tell stories that people care about,” he said, expressing his passion for painting and the power of telling a story as important as man’s early forays into space through it.

The awe-inspiring recreations of his moon experiences, using real moon dust and mission gear like his moon boot, bear testament to his meticulousness and attention to detail.

In fact, he wouldn’t start work on a painting until he had thoroughly studied relevant material like photographs and footages. He even went to the extent of calling up his astronaut colleagues in order to probe their memories for details he may have forgotten.

The artist in Bean always wanted to give color to his moon recreations although he knew that monotonous gray is what the lunar landscape is all about.

So, while the scientist part of him saw the absurdity in painting a moonscape that was anything but gray, the painter in Bean saw how important it was to give color to his expressions.

“I had to figure out a way to add color to the Moon without ruining it,” he once said. “If I were a scientist painting the Moon, I would paint it gray. I’m an artist, so I can add colors to the Moon”, said Bean.

Bean had recorded a total 1,671 hours and 45 minutes in the gravity-deprived space environment before calling it a day, in so far as his space career was concerned.

Bean, who was a test pilot in the U.S. Navy, before NASA selected him as one of the 14 trainees for its third class of astronauts – which ultimately led to his first Apollo mission and NASA’s second – retired from the navy in 1975 as Captain.

He, however, continued in a civilian capacity as head of NASA’s Astronaut Candidate Operations and Training Group within the Astronaut Office, until his retirement.

With Bean gone, only four men who walked the moon still survive, including Buzz Aldrin (88), Harrison “Jack” Schmitt (82), Dave Scott (85), and Charlie Duke (82).

While Bean brought back many memories and souvenirs from the moon, he left something behind in the hope that, perhaps, some other moonwalker would someday chance upon it. It was his silver astronaut lapel pin he had thrown into a moon crater.

“When I look at the moon at night, [I] think about that pin up there, just as shiny as it ever was, and someday maybe somebody will go pick it up,” he said.

Twitter tributes to the great man.

Here are the names of the twelve men who have walked the moon – moonwalkers not of the Michael Jackson kind.

1. Neil Alden Armstrong (August 5, 1930 – August 25, 2012)
2. Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin (Born January 20, 1930)
3. Charles “Pete” Conrad (June 2, 1930 – July 8, 1999)
4. Alan l. Bean (March 15, 1932 – May 26, 2018)
5. Alan Shepard (November 18, 1923 – July 21, 1998)
6. Edgar D. Mitchell (September 17, 1930 – February 4, 2016)
7. David Randolph Scott (Born June 6, 1932)
8. James B. Irwin (March 17, 1930 – August 8, 1991)
9. John Watts Young (September 24, 1930 – January 5, 2018)
10. Charles M. Duke Jr. (Born October 3, 1935)
11. Harrison “Jack” Schmitt (Born July 3, 1935)
12. Eugene E. Cernan (March 14, 1934 – January 16, 2017)

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