Editor's note: A podcast of Alan Bean's presentation is available at UD Podcasts.
4:42 p.m., Oct. 21, 2010----“Hello, fellow Earthlings. Hello, fellow human beings. Glad to be with you in paradise tonight,” said Alan Bean -- the fourth astronaut to walk on the moon -- as he began the Harcourt “Ace” Vernon Lecture before 500 people at Clayton Hall on the University of Delaware campus Wednesday night.
Bean, who set 11 world records in aeronautics and space exploration as a NASA astronaut and engineer, spoke with humor and grace, holding the audience at rapt attention as he shared his experiences training for the Apollo 12 mission, what it was like to walk on the moon, and what he learned that may help us in our life pursuits.
A successful artist, Bean also illustrated his talk with paintings of his adventures in space.
As Bean noted, “Every impossible dream has to start somewhere,” and for the Texas-born aviator and test pilot, it was 1963, when NASA selected him to fly spaceships instead of airplanes.
Training for the lunar mission had its demands, Bean said. He and his fellow astronauts, all pilots, now had to learn a lot about rocks and dust, to the point, where Bean said he probably holds the equivalent of a doctorate in “lunar geology.”
In an experiment designed to measure his metabolism while in a space suit under moon-like conditions -- a total of 430 pounds on earth, the equivalent of 70 pounds on the moon -- Bean said the space suit was not padded well enough, resulting in “one of the first space-age wedgies.”
When Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong of the Apollo 11 mission did the first moonwalk in the Sea of Tranquility, on July 20, 1969, Bean said it was “surreal” to him and his fellow astronauts. Their colleagues were on the moon some 200,000 miles away.
Just four months later, in November 1969, Bean was the lunar module pilot on Apollo 12. He became the fourth man to walk on the lunar surface -- a feat accomplished by only 12 astronauts -- when he set foot in the Ocean of Storms.
During two moonwalks, Bean and Pete Conrad, the mission's commander, deployed scientific experiments and collected rocks. They also visited the unmanned Surveyor III spacecraft that had landed in a nearby crater more than two years earlier and removed parts to bring back to Earth for analysis.
Bean says, he's often asked if he was scared.
“I wasn't scared. What worried me -- we feared if something goes wrong, would we remember the training to know what to do.”
As they were approaching the lunar surface, Bean says he looked out and saw many more rocks and craters than were ever shown on his flight simulator on Earth and thought at first there wasn't a place to land.
“I needed to calm down,” he said he told himself. “Your life is on the line and if something is going wrong, you're not coming back [to Earth].”
Bean says he left a little silver pin on the moon and that it was the only “star” he saw because it's too bright, standing on the moon, to see any stars.
“It's like being on a brightly lit patio,” Bean said.
Bean credits Conrad for teaching him a life-changing lesson. Bean spoke critically of a person at mission control to Conrad, suggesting the person might not belong on their team.
“He told me, 'You've got to find a way to admire and care about every member on the team,'” Bean said, noting that he took the advice to heart and it changed his life more than anything in the 18 years he was at NASA.
“Ask yourself, 'What can I admire and like about this person?' That will make a change in your life for the better,” Bean said.
Teamwork was essential to get to the moon, Bean said, and it involved 400,000 hardworking people, not geniuses.
“We did it in seven years,” Bean said. “We believed working together we could.”
Bean says that soon we'll have inflatable structures -- outposts on the moon.
“All this is coming, and these are just the first baby steps,” he said of the previous space missions.
Article by Tracey Bryant
Photos by Evan Krape