Moon Walker: Remembering Texas Engineering’s Alan Bean

alan bean descending intrepid lunar module

Alan L. Bean, Lunar Module pilot for the Apollo 12 mission, starts down the ladder of the Lunar Module (LM) "Intrepid" to join astronaut Charles Conrad Jr., mission commander, on the lunar surface. NASA

Alan Bean was an astronaut who became the fourth human to walk on the moon. He was an artist who painted his experiences and texturized his work with pieces from his past. He was a Texas Engineering alumnus who was so proud of his education, he carried his class ring with him into space.

Bean died on May 26 in Houston, at the age of 86. He was the last surviving member of the Apollo 12 mission.

alan bean collecting samples in the ocean of storms

Bean holds a Special Environmental Sample Container filled with lunar soil collected during the extravehicular activity (EVA) in which Astronauts Charles "Pete" Conrad Jr., commander, and Bean participated. Conrad, who took this picture, is reflected in the helmet visor of the Lunar Module pilot. NASA

Bean earned his bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from The University of Texas at Austin in 1955. After serving as a test pilot in the U.S. Navy, he was selected to join NASA’s third group of astronauts in 1963. Upon completing his initial assignments as a backup astronaut for the Gemini 10 and Apollo 9 missions, Bean earned his first opportunity to travel into space in 1969 as the lunar module pilot for the Apollo 12 mission. On Nov. 19, 1969, he landed in the Ocean of Storms and became the fourth human to walk on the moon, conducting several experiments and collecting 75 pounds of rocks and lunar soil for study on Earth.

alan bean painting in his studio

Bean painting in his studio. Eileen Wu for the Alcalde

In 1973, Bean served as the spacecraft commander of Skylab Mission II, his second journey into space. He led the second-ever crew to live and work aboard the Skylab’s orbital workshop, surveying Earth’s resources and capturing over 75,000 photographs of the sun to improve our understanding of its effects on the solar system.

Altogether, Bean logged 69 days, 15 hours and 45 minutes in space, including 31 hours and 31 minutes on the lunar surface. He is one of only 12 people who have walked on the moon.

Bean retired from the Navy in 1975 and NASA in 1981, and he devoted the rest of his life to his work as a professional artist, capturing the extraordinary grandeur of space travel in paintings that have been exhibited in the National Air and Space Museum and in UT Austin’s LBJ Library and Museum.

In a story in Texas Exes’ Alcalde magazine, Bean noted that the engineering education he received at UT Austin changed his life. “In my career, I’ve competed for flights and jobs with people from every major college,” Bean said. “I’ve met people smarter than me, but I’ve never met anyone who had a better education than I did.”

alan bean with ut students and faculty in houston

A Piece of UT on the Moon: In 1969, Texas Engineering students in the Student Engineering Council, led by John Stratton (B.S. Aerospace Engineering 1970), organized an event where UT students, faculty and staff signed a document that was converted to microfilm, and the microfilm was presented to Alan Bean in Houston before he left on the Apollo 12 mission. Bean took the microfilm to the surface of the moon and left it there. Photo courtesy of alumnus Tom Rioux (B.S. Civil Engineering 1970, M.S. 1973, Ph.D. 1977)


Learn more about Alan Bean, his incredible journey as an astronaut and his second career as an artist:

Alan Bean, 4th Person to Walk on the Moon, Dies at 86, The New York Times

Alan Bean, the fourth man to walk on the Moon, has died at 86, The Verge

The Forgotten True Story of Alan Bean's Unlikely Journey to the Moon, Popular Mechanics

Alan Bean Isn’t an Astronaut Who Paints—He’s an Artist Who Used to Be an Astronaut, Alcalde magazine