Alan Bean: The incredible astro-artist

Quick notes:

  • Alan Bean was born in 1932 and started working for NASA in 1963

  • Alan Bean piloted the Apollo 12 mission and walked on the moon

  • He retired from NASA in 1981 to focus on his art; Alan Bean’s art is based on his space flights

Remember when your parents and teachers told you that you could grow up to be anything you wanted to be? Alan Bean took that message to heart. Not only did he grow up to be a world-class artist, but he was also the fourth man to walk on the moon. His paintings of the universe from an entirely new perspective are illuminating and entirely unique, and his life should serve as an inspiration to us all.

Who was Alan Bean?

Alan Bean was born in Texas on March 15, 1932. After graduating from Paschal High School in Fort Worth, Texas, Bean went on to attend the University of Texas, graduating with a degree in aeronautical engineering in 1955. He joined the Navy after graduation, and in 1963, he joined the manned spaceflight program at NASA. It was during these NASA years that Bean would have some of his most memorable and art-inspiring experiences.


(From left to right: Charles Conrad, Jr.; Richard Gordon, Jr.; Alan Bean)

During his first few years with NASA, Bean was a test pilot and was the understudy pilot for the Gemini 10 and Apollo 9 missions. In November 1969, he finally got his shot to be shot up into space. Bean was selected to be the lunar module pilot on the Apollo 12 mission. During his time in space, Bean walked on the moon… twice. His foot-to-moon time was over eight hours,

Alan Bean’s other career stats are equally impressive. The astronaut and pilot spent over 1,672 hours in space, flew 27 different types of aircraft, and had more than 7,145 hours of flight time overall (that is almost 300 days). He also set a spaceflight time record with pilot Jack Lousma in 1973 for spending 59 days in an orbiting laboratory for the Skylab 12 mission.

After an exciting and challenging career that was literally “out of this world”, Bean wasn’t just going to relax and fade away into retired obscurity. his life took a dramatic change of pace after he retired from NASA in 1981.

Alan Bean’s art


“I had been painting earthbound subjects for many years by the time I returned from Apollo 12 and Skylab 3 missions,” Bean said, “but my fellow astronauts convinced me to paint my experiences on the moon.” With this nudge from his friends and co-workers, his new career path was born. The former astronaut took the mental pictures still spinning around his head from his space flights and turned them into magnificent paintings that give all of us a new view of our world.

Not only does Alan Bean’s art feature space themes and topics, they use unique tools and textures. Some of his pieces even feature parts of the moon itself: space dust collected from the Ocean of Storms landscape on the moon’s surface.

Bean’s legacy lives on

Alan Bean passed away in Houston, Texas on May 26, 2018, but his message lives on through his artwork. Bean took his experiences, combined them with a unique vision and perspective, and worked to share what he learned and saw with the rest of the world. May we all strive to do the same.

A deeper dive — Related reading from the 101

The bittersweet story of how a geologist finally reached the moon: Science101
Not all space stories are as uplifting as Alan Bean’s. Eugene Shoemaker’s trip to the moon was a little rockier. 

Gaze upon a black hole up close for the very first time: Science101
Art isn’t the only way to get a glimpse of the universe. Thanks to technological and photographic advances, we can see more of our galaxy than ever before.