Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy birthday, Jim Irwin

Happy birthday to Jim Irwin, one of the moonwalkers who I regrettably will never be able to meet.

Irwin's only mission was as the Lunar Module Pilot on Apollo 15, which landed near Hadley Rille in July 1971. Irwin and Dave Scott were the first mission to use the lunar rover and to take three moonwalks during their stay. The two astronauts exerted themselves so greatly in their final day on the Moon that they were both showing signs of irregular heartbeats after they rendezvoused with the Command Module. [Dave Scott told me at Spacefest that Mission Control was monitoring their hearts, but never actually told the astronauts that they were seeing the irregular heartbeats.] Irwin later suffered two heart attacks, the second of which proved fatal on August 8, 1991.

The photo above is from the pre-launch breakfast for the Apollo 15 crew and their backups. It shows Irwin and Vance Brand, who was the backup Command Module Pilot, obviously having an enjoyable time together.

Also shown is a photo of Irwin on the Moon. For autograph requests, he had copies of this photo printed with the pre-inscribed notation, "His love from the Moon." After leaving NASA in 1972, Irwin founded High Flight, a Christian ministry. Beginning in 1973, he led several expeditions to Mt. Ararat, Turkey, in search of the wreckage of Noah's Ark.

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.