Astronaut Alan Bean died over the weekend at the age of 86. As the lunar module pilot for the Apollo 12 mission, Bean was part of the second crew that landed on the Moon and became the fourth man to walk on the lunar surface. He later commanded the second crewed mission to America’s first space station, Skylab.
Bean was the last surviving member of the Apollo 12 mission, and following his death, only four moonwalkers remain: Buzz Aldrin (Apollo 11), David Scott (Apollo 15), Charles Duke (Apollo 16), and Harrison Schmitt (Apollo 17).
Born in 1932 in Wheeler, Texas, he attended the University of Texas at Austin in 1955, and joined the US Navy, where he trained to become a pilot. The Navy later assigned him to the US Naval Test Pilot School in Maryland, where he trained under his future Apollo 12 commander Pete Conrad, an instructor at the school. Bean would later be selected as part of Astronaut Group 3 in 1963, which included Buzz Aldrin, Eugene Cernan (Apollo 10 and 17 — who passed away in 2016), and Michael Collins (Apollo 11).
Apollo 12’s commander, Conrad, specifically requested Bean for his crew. Along with Command Module Pilot Richard F. Gordon Jr., the mission launched on November 14th, 1969, and was struck by lightning seconds into the launch. Aided by ground control, Bean recalled a procedure that saved the mission from an early abort, and successfully landed on the Moon’s Ocean of Storms on November 19th.
Upon landing, Bean and Conrad performed a pair of treks, where they collected rocks and set up instruments that would collect data about the Moon’s seismic activity, solar wind, and magnetic field. They also landed within walking distance of the Surveyor 3 probe, which had landed two years earlier in 1967. It was the first and only time that astronauts have rendezvoused with such a probe on another celestial body. The crew successfully returned to Earth on November 24; upon splashdown, a camera in the capsule came loss and hit Bean in the head, knocking him out.
The Apollo 12 mission wasn’t Bean’s last in space. He was later selected to command the second crewed mission to the Skylab space station on July 18th, 1973. The crew, which included astronauts Owen K. Garriott and Jack R. Lousma, spent a total of 58 days in space. Bean conducted a variety of medical and biological experiments, installed equipment, and took part in one of the mission’s three spacewalks, testing a prototype propulsion backpack that allowed astronauts to maneuver in space without being tethered to a spacecraft. After returning to Earth, he was assigned to the backup crew for the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. He retired from the US Navy in 1975 and from NASA in 1981.
After his retirement from NASA, he took up painting as an occupation, creating vivid depictions of lunar missions, texturing his works with lunar boot prints and even samples of lunar dust. He later noted that he felt “in the long run it was more important for me to try to create the paintings than it was to try to mass them together and put them in a book.”