Alan Bean - Interview
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Interview With Alan Bean
By Louis Varricchio
Copyright Lou Varricchio and Aerospace Horizons.


Apollo 12 was the second NASA mission to land humans on the Moon in November 1969. Of 12’s three crewmen—astronauts Pete Conrad, Alan Bean and Dick Gordon—only Conrad and Bean took the Lunar Module to the surface of the Moon, landed, and walked on the cratered Ocean of Storms. Bean also spent nearly two months in the weightless environment of Earth orbit aboard Skylab 3 in 1973. He had planned to pilot the space shuttle but decided to retire in 1980. At that time, he wanted to pursue his burgeoning career in space art.

(Photo by NASA)

Apollo 12 made space history a long time ago. Best remembered for lightning striking the giant Saturn 5 rocket after takeoff, Apollo 12 is also notable for its pinpoint landing next to the abandoned Surveyor 3 robot spacecraft and for returning a lunar rock, sample 12013, with a section that was chemically identical to some Australasian tektites found on Earth. Of the Apollo 12 crew, only Alan Bean and Dick Gordon survive. Astronaut Pete Conrad, one of the most colorful NASA astronauts from the golden age of spaceflight, died in a motorcycle accident in 1999.

(NASA photo of Apollo 12 crew: Left to right are Conrad, Gordon, and Bean)

Today, only Alan Bean actively speaks about the historic Apollo 12 mission and what it was like to be the fourth man to walk (more like "hop") on the Moon.

An accomplished artist, Dr. Bean paints lunar and space scenes both realistic and fanciful; his canvases are highly collectible and command thousands of dollars at art auctions.

Dr. Bean is a decorated U.S. Navy pilot and aerospace engineer and was in Vermont last week to accept an honorary doctor of fine arts degree at Green Mountain College.

I had the honor of meeting Dr. Bean and chatting with him at the college about the past and future of NASA as well as humans in space. I presented the former astronaut with a gift copy of my book about lunar science, titled "Inconstant Moon" (published by Xlibris/Random House); it discusses some of the unusual lunar rocks returned by the Apollo 12 crew.

(Photo of Alan Bean painting on display at Green Mountain College, Vermont, taken by Lou Varricchio. Dr. Bean uses some of the historic tools of his Apollo 12 mission to paint. Even genuine specks of lunar dust, taken from his lunar EVA suit fabric, are incorporated into the oil and acrylic paints making Bean canvases highly collectible and valuable.)

VARRICCHIO: Do you believe extraterrestrials have visited the Earth?

DR. BEAN: No. In all the billions of miles of space, we’re it. Unlike on T.V. where aliens have landed here or people are waiting for the aliens to come by—in the real world, they’ll never come by. Here we are; we’re all there is in this portion of the galaxy. It’s up to us to make the Earth a great place.

(Planetary habitability chart shows where life might exist on extrasolar planets based on the Solar System and life on Earth. ESA)

VARRICCHIO: You use realistic and fantasy art as a means of exploring your off-Earth experiences. Why?

DR. BEAN: I have witnessed things that few humans have seen. I went to another world and I am an artist. So, when I left NASA in 1980, I wanted to be true to my creative skills and tell the stories of humanity’s first adventures off the Earth through visual art. I can celebrate the first time humans went to another world, the Moon. Yes, we will do it again when we send humans to land on Mars for the first time. This is what humans do. We explore new worlds. I explore these new worlds through my art.

(Photo of Alan Bean by Lou Varricchio)

VARRICCHIO: Regarding the Apollo 12 and Skylab 3 missions, what are your fondest memories?

DR. BEAN: Well, not all crews get along like professional teams. But I was lucky on Apollo 12 in 1969 and Skylab 3 in 1973. I can honestly say I went on a flight to the Moon with my two best friends, Pete Conrad and Dick Gordon. It was scary at times, but I had these two great guys by my side. Jack Lousma and Owen Garriott were with me on SL-3. They were the rookies and I was the veteran, the commander of that mission. I passed on to them what Pete and Dick taught me about doing the right things as an astronaut. I tried to model Pete as Skylab commander. And we were up there for 59 days doing a lot of good science.

(Photo of Alan Bean by Lou Varricchio)

VARRICCHIO: What kind of public support do you see today regarding human spaceflight?

DR. BEAN: Hey, I thought everybody wanted the most out of our space program for the good of the nation. But I look around now and it’s disappointing to me that some politicians are not thinking the same things. They’re not doing and voting what is best for the country. They do other things. I’ve been very shocked.

(Photo of Alan Bean by Lou Varricchio)

VARRICCHIO Is America on the right track today regarding humans venturing into space?

DR. BEAN: I do not believe so. In my opinion, NASA spent a lot of time with the best minds in the scientific community to come up with a plan to return humans to the Moon and go beyond it (Project Constellation and the Ares rockets).

NASA had the best hardware under development and the best people to get the job done. So, for someone to just drop in, spend a little time thinking and saying ‘Well, I think I’ll change things,’ is very arrogant.

Such a move was not in the best interest of NASA. I have a lot of confidence in the methodology of NASA to do the best things with the time and money available.

My heart is in what NASA wanted to do and not with the people who think they have a "better" idea. Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan, and many others, agree with me on this.

(Photo by NASA)


Both Louis Varricchio and Alan Bean are Ambassadors aboard the USS Phoenix