Alan L. Bean
Only a handful of men have walked on the moon. But thanks to Alan Bean’s artistic eye – and firsthand memories – we can all get closer to living that experience.
Alan Bean was born in Wheeler, Texas on March 15, 1932. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 1955 and was commissioned as an ensign in the U.S. Navy. After completing flight training, he was assigned to VA-44, a jet attack squadron in Jacksonville, Florida. After a four-year tour of duty, he attended the Navy Test Pilot School — where one of his instructors was his future Apollo 12 commander, Pete Conrad — then flew as a test pilot on several types of naval aircraft.
In 1963, NASA selected Bean as part of its third group of astronauts. After serving on the backup crews for Gemini 10 and Apollo 9, Bean was selected as the lunar module pilot for Apollo 12, the second lunar landing. When Apollo 12 lifted off on Nov. 14, 1969, the Saturn V booster was struck twice by lightning shortly after liftoff, knocking out the fuel cells in the spacecraft. A quick-thinking ground controller asked the crew to throw an obscure switch, and Bean – with his legendary attention to detail – knew where the switch was located and quickly brought the fuel cells back on line.
On November 19, 1969, Bean, with Navy Capt. Pete Conrad – commander of the mission – made a pinpoint landing in the moon’s Ocean of Storms, only a few hundred feet from the Surveyor III probe. Bean and Conrad made two moonwalks, spending a total of almost eight hours walking on the lunar surface. The pair deployed a number of lunar surface experiments, and installed the first nuclear power generator station on the moon. Navy Capt. Richard Gordon remained in lunar orbit during the 31 hours Bean and Gordon were on the moon.
Bean returned to space in July 1973 as commander of Skylab 3, the second manned mission to the United States’ first space station. Bean and crewmates Owen Garriott and Jack Lousma spent 59 days in orbit. During his time in Skylab, Bean made a spacewalk, working outside the space station for more than 2 ½ hours. The hard-working crew of Skylab 3 accomplished 150 percent of its pre-mission goals.
Following Skylab, Bean served as backup commander of the U.S. crew for the joint Soviet-United States Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. Retiring from the Navy in 1973, he stayed on with NASA as the head of the Astronaut Candidate Operations and Training Group. Not long after the first launch of the space shuttle in 1981, Bean resigned from NASA to devote himself to painting.
Bean has also flown 27 types of aircraft, civilian and military, and logged more than 7,000 hours of flight time, including 4,890 hours in jet aircraft. In his two space flights, Bean logged 1,671 hours, 45 minutes in space, including more than 10 hours of time in EVAs.
His decision to devote himself to his art, he said, was his realization that in his 18 years as an astronaut, he had observed worlds and sights no artist had ever seen before. He sees his art as a way of helping convey these experiences to the wider world.
His works incorporate tiny flecks of lunar soil that were embedded in patches from his lunar space suit, and Bean has used a lunar overshoe to leave distinctive patterns in his paintings. His artwork has been widely published and displayed in museums and art galleries around the world. “Alan Bean and his astroartistry recreate the drama and excitement of man’s exploration of the moon as only could be chronicled by one who has been there,” said Neil Armstrong, commander of Apollo 11 and the first man on the moon.
Bean has two grown children, a son and daughter, and he and his wife, Leslie, live in Houston, where he continues to create his awe-inspiring artwork.
For his outstanding service in the air, in space, on the moon and in the studio, Alan L. Bean is enshrined into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.