Yesterday, it was announced that another Apollo moonwalker has sadly passed away: Apollo 12 lunar module pilot, Alan LaVern Bean.
Born in Wheeler, Texas in 1932, Bean was a US Navy test pilot when he was selected for NASA’s third group of astronauts in 1963. In Michael Collins’ autobiography, Carrying the Fire, he describes Bean as a “very pleasant fellow to be around, especially if you like spaghetti, which is all he eats on a trip.” In 1966, Bean was assigned to the Apollo Applications Program, focussing on plans for the first American space station. It looked like he would be denied the chance to fly to the Moon – but that changed in October 1967, when fellow astronaut C.C. Williams was killed in a jet crash. Bean was called to take Williams’ place as lunar module pilot on what would ultimately be the backup crew for Apollo 9; the commander was Charles “Pete” Conrad, who had been an instructor of Bean’s at the Patuxent River Naval Test Pilot School, and the command module pilot was Dick Gordon, another Navy pilot who had already flown with Conrad on Gemini 11.
Conrad, Gordon and Bean – one of the most closely-knit of all Apollo crews – headed into space together on Apollo 12, the second lunar landing mission, on 14th November 1969. When the Saturn V was struck by lightning shortly after liftoff, throwing off the spacecraft’s telemetry to Mission Control, the crew was instructed to try “SCE to Aux” – and it was Bean who knew the location of the switch which restored data flow. Five days later, Bean became the fourth man to walk on the Moon after he and Conrad touched down in the Ocean of Storms; they carried out two EVAs, during which they visited and recovered parts from the unmanned lunar probe Surveyor 3.
In 1973, Bean commanded Skylab 3, the second mission to Skylab, the space station conceived as part of the Apollo Applications Program. Launching on 28th July and returning on 25th September, Bean and his crew – Jack Lousma and Owen Garriott – spent 59 days in Earth orbit, studying the effects of long-term weightlessness on their own bodies, and performing other experiments, including one to see if spiders could spin webs in zero-gravity. They also pulled a prank on Mission Control by playing them a voice recording of Garriott’s wife, saying that she had gone up to the station to bring the crew a home-cooked meal. The Skylab 3 crew were so productive that they ended up exceeding their pre-set goals for the mission.
When Bean retired from NASA in 1981, it was to make a career of one of his long-time hobbies: painting. Bean spent the rest of his life as an artist, using his unique memories to paint scenes from the Apollo program, to which he would add genuine moondust obtained from his old mission patches. His paintings can be seen at www.alanbean.com.