Moon art from someone who's been there

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Anchor Lisa Mullins speaks with Alan Bean, former Apollo astronaut, now artist. Bean was the fourth man to walk on the moon. These days, he tries to capture his experiences in space on canvas.

LISA MULLINS: I'm Lisa Mullins, and this is The World. It's been almost 40 years since a human first walked on the moon. Neil Armstrong made that giant leap for mankind on July 20th, 1969. 11 men followed him in successive Apollo Missions. Of that intrepid dozen, only one is an artist. Alan Bean was the fourth man to walk on the moon, and he has dedicated his life to capturing his experiences in space, on canvas. A special exhibition of his work is to open next week at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington. One of the paintings Alan Bean prizes most is called That's How it Felt to Walk on the Moon. In it, Bean depicts himself in his white space suit, with soft splashes of blues and pinks and sunset yellows. It's his way of sharing the sheer exhilaration of walking on the moon.

ALAN BEAN: It's an incredible moment, it's a moment where you feel like you're like the luckiest guy on earth. It's a moment where your life is at stake and the people that got you there better have built that suit right, and they better have built your backpack right. And they better build the lunar module right, so you got to count on, really. It took 400 thousand of us to get to the moon and back, okay? Safely. You gotta count on all of 'em, because if the lady that sewed up that suit and glued the seams and things did a poor job, I could die on the moon, easily. So, those thoughts are running through. The fact that it's wonderful, that you're there, that you're so far from earth, that it's a gray world, but still, you're an earth representative. And the earth is beautiful and green and yellow, and brown, and all the colors that we see. So that is why that painting made sense to me and allowed me to do it.

LISA MULLINS: Bean's painting of himself walking on the moon is part of that upcoming exhibit in Washington. You can also see it in his book called Painting Apollo. Apart from walking on the moon, Alan Bean also spent time on Skylab, the first US space station.

When Bean retired as an astronaut, NASA awarded him some emblems, patches from his actual Skylab and Moonwalk spacesuits. He framed them and put them on a wall in his home, right next to the studio where he does his painting.

ALAN BEAN: One day I was sitting down back there at home in my studio, and I was looking up at these emblems from Apollo 12, and comparing them with Skylab, and I thought, boy, they're dirty. Those things are sure dirty, and my Skylab ones are nice and clean. And I said, you know, those things are dirty with moon dust. I do have some moon dust. I'd wanted moon dust to put in my painting, but didn't have it, and never thought about it being in those patches, even though I was looking at them all the time. And I said, you know, if I would be willing to cut them up, I could put them in the paintings, and then I would have pieces of my space suit in there, and I would have dirt from the ocean of storms. Now, you couldn't weigh it because it's in there between the threads of the patches, you know, 'cause they're cloth. So I said, I could do this. I hated to cut them up because they, you know, they meant a lot to me anyway, but I said, you know, I'm using the rest of my life to make these painting, I think it would be appropriate to go ahead and cut them up and include them in the painting. So that's what I do. And then I think, maybe people that look at it, they might like it too. Maybe some don't, it's okay.

LISA MULLINS: How did you actually cut up the patch? I mean, in tiny, tiny pieces? Was it--

ALAN BEAN: What I, oh that's a good question. What I did was I marked them into ten equal places, spaces, that'd be my engineering approach, okay? Then I cut them each 1/10th off. And then, of course those were, that made them fairly big. And then I got out my scissors and cut them up in little pieces that were recognizable, so that if I painted over them and looked at them, you could see they were little triangular pieces of cloth.

LISA MULLINS: Now, just if we're lucky enough, I don't know if in any of the images that are in this book, is there a chance that we could see moon dust in any of the images here?

ALAN BEAN: [OVERLAPPING] Why sure, why sure. Let's go over this, these are arranged chronologically, okay?

LISA MULLINS: Yup.

ALAN BEAN: And then let me look around and I'll find some. I haven't ever done this but this is a good thing to do, I think, to make a point. I'm looking around. Okay, I, here's a good one. I'm looking at Plate 106.

LISA MULLINS: Okay. Hold on, let me get here.

ALAN BEAN: [OVERLAPPING] Go there.

LISA MULLINS: [OVERLAPPING] Okay, here I am, Plate 106. Okay, so yeah. Two, you should describe the image first.

ALAN BEAN: [OVERLAPPING] Okay, now this. Okay, this is Pete and I. Several times on the moon, a couple that I remember, I was backing up to take a picture and I would trip over a rock or something, under the dust. So I would fall backwards. Now, in the light gravity, you fall back slowly, it's not big deal. First time Pete comes over and grabs me, and then he pulls me up, first time. And he, [LAUGHS] I'm so light up there that he pulls me up and I bump into him, and we, both of us nearly fall over. We kinda laugh about it.

LISA MULLINS: [LAUGHS]

ALAN BEAN: This is the second time I fell down, and he comes over and then he, you can see in this painting that he's just using one finger, and I'm using one finger, and he lifts me up more gently. By the way, the title of this painting is He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother, which is the way we felt. But take a look now up in the upper left hand corner of this painting.

LISA MULLINS: Okay.

ALAN BEAN: Now you see three circular marks, look at the far left one, and look at eight o'clock. Right at eight o'clock on that circle is triangular piece of fabric, you can see it. That is a piece of, I don't know whether it was from my flag, or from the NASA emblem, or where it was from, but it was from those emblems that I had on the moon. And that's, under that paint, there's moon dust in there, right there.

LISA MULLINS: [OVERLAPPING] Oh, so I can see now.

ALAN BEAN: [OVERLAPPING] You know? There's a little triangular piece.

LISA MULLINS: Yes, it's like in a, what do they call it? Isosceles triangle?

ALAN BEAN: That's right. There it is. And then there's probably six other pieces around.

LISA MULLINS: On this image?

ALAN BEAN: Yes.

LISA MULLINS: And you don't know remember where they are?

ALAN BEAN: Heck no, I do different on every painting.

LISA MULLINS: [LAUGHS]

ALAN BEAN: So, but if I had this original painting here, which isn't here, it's up in Washington getting ready to be exhibited. If you came there and looked at this painting, you would see them.

LISA MULLINS: You know, I love the fact that you include some of the moon dust and little bits of your patch that you wore when you walked on the moon, that you included in your paintings, but did you keep like a little bit for posterity for yourself?

ALAN BEAN: This is posterity.

LISA MULLINS: [LAUGHS] I know.

ALAN BEAN: [OVERLAPPING] No, I don't. I've still got some left, thank goodness, 'cause I hope to live another 10 or so years, so I need to [LAUGHS] put that in paintings. My life for the last 28 years is tied up with this like it was for 18 years being an astronaut, or eight years before that being a Navy pilot. I believe in doing what you can, 'cause I'll be gone in another 10 or 15 years. But, your listeners need to think about this, they're only gonna be here once. Sometimes we think there's other people around that will make up for what we don't do. And sure they can, they can mow a lawn, they can drive a car, they can take a job and write an article or something, but they cannot do what's in the heart of each of your listeners. And if they don't do it, it will never be done again 'til time ends. Who knows when that is.

LISA MULLINS: Alan Bean, so nice to speak with you. Thank you.

ALAN BEAN: My pleasure to be on your show.

LISA MULLINS: Alan Bean was the forth man to walk on the moon. You can see his artwork next week at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington. We also have some of it at theworld.org