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The Incredible Life of Astronaut and Artist Alan Bean

The Fourth Man to Walk on the Moon

Alan Bean

The fourth man on the moon was nicknamed "Sarsaparilla" because he never touched a drink. He was a methodical, meticulous man who always dotted the I's and crossed the T's. He was also the only astronaut whose private passion was for painting.

Alan LaVern Bean was born on March 15 1932 in the Texas town of Wheeler. When old enough he attended Paschal High School in Fort Worth. It was whilst at this school that his first taste of aviation occurred. He volunteered for service with the US Naval Air Rescue. Upon graduating from school, he was successfully selected as a NROTC scholarship at the University of Texas. Until 1955 he studied for a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering. With the degree obtained, Bean was commissioned into the United States Navy as an ensign.

One year later in 1956 Bean had gained his wings after basic training at bases in Florida and Texas. Through to 1960 he was assigned to Jet Attack Squadron VA-44 in Jacksonsville, he was not a natural pilot but through determination and practice he became an accomplished bomber pilot. His strength of character did not go unnoticed and he was selected to be trained as a test pilot and after schooling at Paxtuent River in Maryland, he succeeded. He stayed on at Pax River for two years and served in the Services Test Division of the Naval Air Test Center. He moved to flying A-4 Skyhawk's with VA-172 from Cecil Field in Florida in 1962. He came within a hair's breath of being sent into combat during the Cuban missile crisis, but this was averted by his political masters in Washington.

1962 was also the year Alan Bean first applied to become an astronaut. He survived the cut down to the last thirty five candidates but was at this point dropped from contention. Undeterred, he reapplied the very next year and this time his application was successful.

After watching many of his fellow astronauts manning successful flights in Mercury and Gemini missions, Bean felt left behind and abandoned when flight allocations were drawn up and he was not on any imminent space flights. But, he kept quiet and worked diligently hoping to eventually be rewarded for his patience. He was sent to work on the Apollo Applications Office, which would later be called the Skylab space station program in September 1966. This move should have removed Bean from contention of landing on the moon and he resigned himself to his new found duties. Fate, however, played its part in granting Bean his ambition. The death in a T-38 crash at Miccosukee in Florida of astronaut CC Williams on October 5 1967, left Apollo 12 short of a Lunar Landing pilot until mission commander Peter Conrad requested Alan Bean to be on the flight.

Conrad and Bean had been classmates whilst training at Patuxent River and had enjoyed many happy memories together. With Richard Gordon they comprised the first all Navy spaceflight and the three took Apollo 12 to the moon in November 1969. On 18 November Conrad and Bean walked on the surface of the moon in the Oceanus Procellarum.

Bean returned to space on 28 July 1973 for a fifty nine day stay onboard the Skylab space station. This mission, christened Skylab 3, came close to disaster causing NASA to prepare another hurried launch to rescue the three man crew of Alan Bean, Jack Lousma and Oen Garriott. Ultimately, however, a rescue was not needed and the mission continued without any further major incidents.

Bean continued to work for NASA in programs as diverse as Apollo-Soyuz and in 1975 he worked on the Space Shuttle program.

1975 also saw Alan bean resign from the United States Navy with the rank of Captain. For three years from 1978 he replaced John Young as acting chief astronaut. Bean had provisionally been allocated a flight onboard the Shuttle as commander, but instead resigned from NASA to take up his passion for painting as a full time career. He left NASA on June 26 1981.

His paintings predominately feature himself and his fellow Apollo astronauts on the moon surface.

He died on 26 May 2018 at Houston Methodist Hospital in Houston Texas aged 86. 

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The Incredible Life of Astronaut and Artist Alan Bean
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