It is usually not given for a human being to excel at one demanding profession, not to speak of three. However, Alan Bean was, during his eighty-six years of life, a test pilot, an astronaut, and an artist. He flew aircraft to the edge of the envelope during his early life in the Navy. As an astronaut, he became the fourth man to walk on the moon. Then, as an artist, he told the story of the first great age of lunar exploration in a unique medium, in paint.

To the Ocean of Storms

Bean’s moonwalk was, in many ways, somewhat inauspicious. Apollo 12 was the second expedition to the lunar surface and thus lacked the historical cache of Apollo 11, the first landing by humans on the lunar surface.

Bean was accompanied to the moon by the colorful Pete Conrad, a larger than life character under whose shadow any ordinary man would have gone unnoticed.

While Apollo 12 was a successful science mission, returning a treasure trove of rocks and soil, it was also characterized by Bean’s accident-prone klutziness. He broke the TV camera by accidentally pointing it at the sun and left behind several rolls of exposed film.

Nevertheless, Bean went on to command the second Skylab mission. One of the feats he performed was to rest a prototype of the manned maneuvering unit, which proved to be useful in later space shuttle missions. Bean, he might have had his pick of shuttle missions, retired from NASA soon after the first space shuttle flew.

However, he remained a mentor to astronauts who followed throughout his life.

Telling the story of Apollo in paint

Bean’s career as an artist was, in many ways, even more distinguished than his years as an astronaut. He brought light and color to his scenes from the six Apollo moon landings, bringing expression and nuance to images of spacesuited astronauts inspire awe that is greater than any photograph or video.

Bean incorporated real moon dust in his work and added texture using a geologist’s hammer and a moon boot. He remains, so far, the only artist to ever visit another world. The single other human being who comes close is the Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, an accomplished artist, who flew on two space missions including the Apollo Soyuz Test Project and who might have walked on the moon had the Russian effort been more successful.

Bean died in Houston on May 26, 2018, ironically at the dawn of what is likely to be the second great age of lunar exploration. Now, as of this writing, only four men who walked on the moon still live on the planet Earth.

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