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Apollo 12 astronaut and artist Alan Bean was 86Apollo 12 astronaut and artist Alan Bean was 86

Alan Bean, the Wheeler, Texas, son of a scientist, became a U.S. Navy aviator and walked on the moon as a NASA astronaut. Bean died May 26 at age 86. After he retired from the space agency, Bean became known for his canvas art paintings, many of which featured otherworldly scenes inspired by his lunar explorations and celestial orbits.

Alan Bean, Apollo 12 lunar module pilot and Skylab commander. NASA photo.

Bean was smitten by aviation at an early age. “My goal in life, ever since I was about 10-years-old, was to become a Navy pilot, so I majored in aeronautical engineering because I thought this would make me a better pilot,” he wrote on his web page.

He pursued a test pilot position with the Navy because Bean wanted to fly a variety of aircraft rather than a single model. He wrote that “every day was an adventure” because the role allowed him to fly “all the planes the Navy had.” NASA reported that he flew 27 aircraft types and accumulated more than 7,145 hours of flight time, 4,890 hours of it in jets, but it still wasn’t enough to satisfy the airman.

When Bean watched black-and-white TV news coverage of Alan Shepard’s 1961 orbital flight atop a Mercury rocket, it changed his life’s trajectory. He wrote that he thought the new challenge could be “the perfect job for a guy like me.”

Soon after, he tested gravity space suits for NASA and joked that he “became the first astronaut to experience a space-age wedgie.” Bean and fellow astronaut Pete Conrad learned about geology and tested Surveyor III, the unmanned lunar explorer, in preparation for their Apollo 12 landing on the Ocean of Storms in Nov. 19, 1969. He said walking on the moon with limited gravity allowed astronauts to "prance around" on their toes and was "quite fun to do."

Bean accumulated 1,672 hours in space, which included “more than 10 hours of spacewalks on the moon and in Earth orbit,” according to the space agency.

'First Men - Neil Armstrong' by Alan Bean. Image couresty of NASA X via Youtube.

Earlier, during his Navy training in Maryland, an aviation magazine picture spurred his interest in art, so he enrolled in night school at St. Mary’s College. That's where he learned drawing and watercolor art concepts and developed a fondness for impressionistic art.

Bean’s artistic career took off after he retired from the space agency. The impressionistic brush strokes and color techniques were a good match for his celestial artwork, which often included portraits of astronauts in their exploration gear with actual lunar mission artifacts sprinkled into the paintings. The unique style and the material of the artwork fetched tens of thousands of dollars from art collectors.

His First Men series of astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Jack Schmitt sold for $228,600 each. The Spirit of Apollo painting completed in 2010 is currently listed for sale on Bean’s website for $433,700, and an earlier version of Spirit sold for $67,200.

Bean wrote that he was attracted to art because it “never grows old, never wears out, and brings joy and happiness and satisfaction every day.”

David Tulis

David Tulis

Associate Editor Web/ePilot
AOPA Associate Editor Web/ePilot David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a seaplane-rated private pilot who enjoys vintage aircraft, aerobatic flying, and photography.
Topics: Pilots

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