Alan Bean, who became the fourth person to walk on the moon as part of NASA’s Apollo 12 mission, died on Saturday at the age of 86. While no specific cause of death was mentioned, the astronaut reportedly passed away two weeks after he fell ill while on travel to Fort Wayne, Indiana, according to NASA’s website.
As recalled by NPR, Bean served as Apollo 12’s lunar module pilot, making him part of the crew that made the second moon landing in 1969, just four months after Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins made history with the Apollo 11 mission. For 31 hours, Bean collected lunar samples and teamed up with mission commander Pete Conrad, as they conducted science experiments and visited the Surveyor 3 lander, an unmanned spacecraft that was launched to the moon in 1967.
Four years later, Alan Bean orbited Earth for close to two months as commander of Skylab Mission II, where he was joined by fellow astronauts Owen Garriott and Jack Lousma. According to Bean’s official NASA biography, Mission II “accomplished 150 percent of its pre-mission forecast goals.” It wasn’t long, however, before Bean began taking art classes, and transitioned from astronaut to full-time painter, officially retiring from NASA in 1981. NPR wrote that Bean was able to look back on NASA’s six manned moon landings through the paintings that he completed over a span of more than four decades.
“I feel blessed every day when I’m working on these paintings… the first artist to ever go to another world and try to tell stories that people care about,” Bean said, commenting about the passion he focused on after leaving NASA.
According to NPR, Bean’s paintings didn’t just look at NASA’s manned moon missions with “painstaking detail,” as he also used actual moon dust and ground-up Apollo spacecraft debris as materials for his paintings. He also spoke in depth with his fellow astronauts, and intently studied photos and videos from the moon missions to prepare himself for his next painting. These paintings, CBS News wrote, fetched values of up to $500,000 in recent listings.
“What one must understand about Alan Bean is he is the only artist to have ever walked on the moon,” said actor Tom Hanks, as quoted by CBS News from Bean’s official website.
“No poet has ever been to the lunar surface, nor any journalist, architect nor songwriter. In the realm of the arts, it has fallen upon Alan Bean to be the one moonwalker to turn hard data brought back from the moon into something other than numbered photographs.”
In the aftermath of Alan Bean’s death, only four of the NASA astronauts who walked on the moon between 1969 and 1972 are still living — Buzz Aldrin, Dave Scott, Charlie Duke, and Jack Schmitt. Bean is also the fourth NASA moonwalker to pass away in the last two years, following Edgar Mitchell in 2016, Eugene Cernan in 2017, and John Young in January of this year.