Sunday, March 15, 2009

Happy birthday, Alan Bean!

Apollo 12 Lunar Module Pilot and Skylab 2/3 Commander Alan Bean turns 77 today. Al Bean is perhaps one of the friendliest astronauts you will ever hope to meet. He's a fabulous artist, too.

After getting into the astronaut corps, Bean looked to be on the track to go straight to the Apollo Applications Program (later called Skylab), bypassing the Moon missions. After astronaut C. C. Williams died in an air crash, Bean, his backup, moved into the rotation at the behest of Pete Conrad, who was Bean's instructor at the Naval Flight Test School. Conrad and Bean were perhaps the best matched pair of moonwalkers - at least they had the most fun!

I had the opportunity to have a conversation with Al Bean at Spacefest in February. I asked him if he had ever considered painting scenes from Skylab. His response was fascinating. First, he said, there was a purely technical reason. It normally takes him a month or two to get a scene just right when he paints an Apollo moonwalk picture. With Skylab, since there was so much complicated equipment to be considered, he said he could spend 6 to 8 months before getting the equipment and perspective right. The primary reason for not painting Skylab, though, was the historical significance. He said that in generations to come, the Apollo Moon landings will be all that is remembered about this time in space exploration - not Mercury, Gemini, and certainly not Skylab. Therefore, he said, it was more important for him to be capturing what it was like to be part of Man's first voyages to the Moon.

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