While President Trump has formally decided that landing humans back on the Moon should get priority over a longer term Mars landing ambition, it maybe that no past moonwalker will be around by the time the next moonwalk happens. For the world has sadly lost another one: Alan Bean – a former US Navy test pilot, Apollo 12 moonwalking astronaut, Skylab space station commander, and accomplished artist, has passed away at the age of 86. Only four Apollo moonwalking astronauts now survive: Buzz Aldrin (Apollo 11), David Scott (Apollo 15), Charlie Duke (Apollo 16) and Harrison Schmitt (Apollo 17).
Alan Bean’s mission to the Moon was in November 1969 on Apollo 12 which had a famously happy and friendly crew with none of the Armstrong-Aldrin rivalry that previously partly marred Apollo 11. With command module pilot Richard Gordon left in lunar orbit (he died in November last year), Apollo 12’s landing module piloted by mission commander Charles “Pete” Conrad with Bean along side him, managed to land within two hundred meters of a Surveyor 3 unmanned probe which landed in the Ocean of Storms two years earlier, and which was the aiming point of the mission.
Only two things went seriously wrong with the mission. Apart from a lightning strike on the Saturn V rocket during launch, during his first (of two) lunar walks, Bean accidently burned out the TV camera by pointing it at the sun. This cut television coverage lunar surface. Nevertheless, the mission was judged a success and achieved its mission objectives.
While Alan Bean’s lunar module pilot mission title was a misnomer – he was really the module’s flight engineer – Conrad famously let Bean have a go of the module’s controls during the ascent back to its docking with the command module.
Despite his TV cutting faux pas, Bean was appointed mission commander for the successful Skylab 03 mission – the second flight to America’s first space station Skylab in lunar orbit with Jack Lousma and Owen Garriott as crew mates – to continue repairs after the previous mission led by Conrad had managed to stabilise its temperatures and free its stuck solar array. Bean’s mission managed to erect a more permanent sunshade for thermal protection.
After his NASA career ended, Bean eschewed the world of business as chosen by his fellow astronauts and became an accomplished artist producing stylised images using the Apollo missions as his inspiration – usually mixing in a tiny bit of moon dust into each of his oil painting artworks.
We salute Alan Bean for his service to spaceflight, and for his art, and give our condolences to his family and friends.
Post Script: We have also become aware that US Air Force pilot and Space Shuttle Astronaut Colonel Don Peterson has passed away at the age of 84. Peterson was part of the back up crew for Apollo 16 and flew once into space on the maiden flight of the Space Shuttle Challenger on STS-6 in 1983. On that mission he tested out new space suits during a spacewalk.