NASA has confirmed that Alan Bean has died at the age of 86 after a brief illness. He was most famous for being Apollo 12’s lunar module pilot and the fourth person to walk on the moon. He also commanded the second manned Skylab mission.
“Alan and I have been best friends for 55 years — ever since the day we became astronauts,” said Walt Cunningham, who flew on Apollo 7. “We have never lived more than a couple of miles apart, even after we left NASA. And for years, Alan and I never missed a month where we did not have a cheeseburger together at Miller’s Café in Houston. We are accustomed to losing friends in our business but this is a tough one.”
Alan Bean in his art studio. Image credit alanbean.com
While working together on planning and executing Apollo 12, Alan Bean and mission commander Pete Conrad became known for their colorful descriptions of lunar landscapes. Geologist and Apollo 17 Moonwalker Harrison Schmitt remembered their description of the landing site in the Ocean of Storms this way:
“Their description of bright green concentrations of olivine (peridot) as ‘ginger ale bottle glass’ … gave geologists in Mission Control all a big laugh, as we knew exactly what they had discovered.”
As commander of the second Skylab mission, Alan Bean spent 59 days on America’s first space station, where he and his crew generated enough data on Earth resources to fill 18 miles of computer tape and took 76,000 photographs of the Sun.
After resigning from NASA, Alan Bean took up painting as a way to capture his and his colleagues’ experiences on the Moon and created the “signature” of sprinkling his paintings with a little moon dust. According to Schmitt, he would sometimes ask other Apollo astronauts about details like coloring or the appearance of an instrument to ensure that it was represented accurately. Original Alan Bean paintings could fetch over $200,000.
Alan Bean is survived by wife Leslie Bean, sister Paula Stott, and two children.