Alan LaVern Bean, the fourth human to walk on the Moon, has died at the age of 86. Following reports that he had passed away, the news was confirmed today by NASA.
Bean was born on March 15, 1932 in Wheeler, Texas. In 1963, he was selected by NASA to become an astronaut as part of their third group of astronauts.
After serving as a backup on the Gemini 10 and Apollo 9 missions, Bean got his first flight to space on Apollo 12 as the lunar module pilot. On November 19, 1969, he and Pete Conrad became the third and fourth people to set foot on the Moon.
In an interview with NPR in 2014, Bean described the experience as being “like science fiction”. He said it was “hard for me to believe,” adding: “I would look down and say, ‘This is the moon, this is the moon,’ and I would look up and say, ‘That’s the Earth, that’s the Earth,’ in my head.”
The mission was not without incident. 30 seconds after launching on a Saturn V rocket from Kennedy Space Center, the rocket was hit by lightning. And then, 30 seconds later, it was hit by lightning again, with Bean describing alarms blaring as they flew into space. Thankfully, the mission was not aborted.
Conrad and Bean spent more than 10 hours on the Moon in a region called the Ocean of Storms, during which time they walked to the Surveyor 3 probe, a previous unmanned mission that had landed on the Moon. They also collected rocks, conducted experiments, and took numerous photographs.
This was not Bean’s only mission to space. In June 1973 he was part of the second crewed mission (called Skylab 3) to the US space station Skylab, along with Owen Garriott and Jack Lousma. They spent 59 days in space, a record that was eclipsed months later by the Skylab 4 mission.
Bean resigned from NASA in June 1981, having spent a total of 1,671 hours and 45 minutes in space. He used his subsequent time to work on art in his studio at home, even using moon dust and pieces of his spacesuit in paintings that were given to him by NASA. And he really liked to draw the Moon.
“I’m the only artist in all of history that… can paint that thing,” he told the Washington Post in 2009.
Following the death of Bean, there are now just four astronauts who have walked on the Moon left alive – Buzz Aldrin, David Scott, Charlie Duke, and Jack Schmitt.