Alan Bean, moon-walking US astronaut turned painter, dies in Houston

May 26 (Reuters) - American astronaut Alan Bean, who walked on the moon in 1969 during the Apollo 12 mission and commanded a crew on the Skylab space station in 1973 before giving up his career to become a full-time painter, died in Houston on Saturday, officials said.

Bean, 86, a former U.S. Navy test pilot who became one of only 12 people ever to set foot on the moon, died at Houston Methodist Hospital, his family said in a statement released by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). He had fallen ill two weeks ago while traveling in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

"Alan was the strongest and kindest man I ever knew. He was the love of my life and I miss him dearly," said Leslie Bean, Bean's wife of 40 years, in a statement. "A native Texan, Alan died peacefully in Houston surrounded by those who loved him."

Leaving his footprints on a region called the Ocean of Storms, Bean in November 1969 became the fourth man to walk on the moon as one of the astronauts on the second of NASA's lunar landing missions, Apollo 12.

RELATED: US astronaut, moonwalker Alan Bean dies in Houston

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US astronaut, moonwalker Alan Bean dies in Houston
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US astronaut, moonwalker Alan Bean dies in Houston
FILE PHOTO 22SEP69 - The crew for the Apollo 12 manned lunar landing mission, from left; Charles " Pete" Conrad, Jr., Richard F. Gordon, and Alan L. Bean, stand near a mock-up of the Lunar Lander in this file picture. Conrad, the third man to walk on the moon, died July 8 in Ojai, California at the age of 69 from injuries resulting from crashing his Harley-Davidson motorcycle. BM/ME
TO GO WITH STORY BC-SPACE-BEAN - Retired Astronaut Alan Bean, 66, poses for a portrait in his spacesuit at the Johnson Space Center in Houston in this undated photo. Bean, who was the fourth man to walk on the moon in 1969, left NASA in 1981 and made a successful transition from spaceman to a full-time professional artist. AAL/SV/ME
- UNDATED FILE PHOTO - The crew for the Apollo 12 manned lunar landing mission, from left; Charles " Pete" Conrad, Jr., Richard F. Gordon, and Alan L. Bean, stand near their launch vehicle in this undated file photo. [Conrad, the third man to walk on the moon, died July 8 in Ojai, California at the age of 69 from injuries resulting from crashing his Harley-Davidson motorcycle.]
FOR RELEASE WITH STORY BC-SPACE-BEAN - This mural, "Reaching for the Stars," is one of the many works Astronaut Alan Bean has been commissioned to paint after he made a successful transition from spaceman to a full-time professional artist in 1981. Bean, now 66, was the fourth man to walk on the moon in 1969. AAL/CM/ME
HOUSTON, USA - JUNE 1992: Apollo 16 astronaut Alan Bean, now an artist, who paints scenes from space, photographed in his studio. (Photo by Tom Stoddart/Getty Images)
Former astronaut turned artist Alan Bean holding paint brush up to his painting America's Team, Just the Beginning (1992) as he poses nr. a few of his other paintings inspired by his 1969 Apollo 12 moon walk, in his studio at home. (Photo by Mark Perlstein/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, USA - JUNE 1992: Apollo 16 astronaut Alan Bean, now an artist, who paints scenes from space, photographed in his studio. (Photo by Tom Stoddart/Getty Images)
Illustration of the Skylab orbiting space station, surrounded by portraits of astronauts from the three manned missions to the station, 1974. Pictured are, top row, from left, Skylab 2 astronuats Charles 'Pete' Conrad Jr, Joseph Kerwin, Paul Weitz. bottom row, from left, Skylab 3 astronauts Alan Bean, Owen Garriott, and Jack Lousma, and Skylab 4 astronauts William Pogue, Edward Gibson, and Gerald Carr. (Photo by NASA/Interim Archives/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 20: Bean is shown here in a sleep restraint during the second manned Skylab mission. The crew consisted of Bean as Commander, Owen Garriot and Jack Lousma. Skylab was launched on 14th May 1973 and was America's first manned orbiting space station. Visiting crews of three astronauts performed experiments to study the Sun, Earth and the impact of life in orbit on the human body. Three crews visited Skylab during its operational life. The last mission ended in February 1974, but Skylab remained in orbit until 1979. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas: Skylab III astronauts, Dr. Own K. Garriott, science pilot; Jack R. Lousma, pilot and Alan L. Bean, commander. The fifty-six day mission is scheduled for launching from complex 39, Kennedy Space Center July 28, 1973.
30th July 1973: From left, Dr Owen K Garriott, science pilot, Jack R Lousma, pilot, and Alan L Bean, the Skylab III commander, inside Skylab, before the launch from Cape Kennedy of the second manned Skylab mission, due to last 56 days. (Photo by Keystone/CNP/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) 9/25/1973-Pacific Ocean- Navy scuba divers place a floatation collar around the Skylab III spacecraft, inside which astronauts Alan L. Bean, Owen K. Garriot, and Jack R. Lousma wait. The two-stage Saturn IB rocket carrying the Skylab III astronauts to the orbiting Skylab was launched 7/28/73 from Kennedy's Space Center, and splashed down 9/25/1973, about 362 KM southwest of San Diego. The second Skylab mission of 59 days was man's longest mission to date.
Astronaut Alan L. Bean (C) leaving spacecraft. (Photo by Time Life Pictures/NASA/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
(Front row, seated) Astronauts Alan L. Bean (L), Owen K. Garriott (C) and Jack R. Lousma. (Photo by Time Life Pictures/NASA/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Astronaut Alan L. Bean (C) being assisted to chair. (Photo by Time Life Pictures/NASA/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Astronaut Alan L. Bean undergoing medical check after returning from space mission. (Photo by Time Life Pictures/NASA/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
JUN 22 1970, JUN 23 1970 Astronaut and Wife are summer Houseguests Capt. and Mrs. Alan Bean (center) of Houston Chat with their hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Franklin burns of Cherry Hills Village. The Beans arrived Monday. He walked on the moon during the Apollo 12 mission led by Charles Conrad. Credit: Denver Post (Denver Post via Getty Images)
JUN 22 1970, JUN 23 1970 Capt. Alan Bean Looks Forward to space job. Credit: Denver Post (Denver Post via Getty Images)
Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean's face mask reflects the Apollo 12 astronaut Commander Charles 'Pete' Conrad, as Conrad snaps his companion's photo while taking soil samples from the surface of the moon. | Location: Moon.
(Original Caption) Aboard The USS Hornet - Safely aboard the carrier Hornet, Apollo 12 astronauts gin from the window of their Mobile Quarantine Facility. Left to right: Charles Conrad, Richard Gordon, and Alan Bean. The patch on Alan Bean's forehead covers a cut he received form a camera during splashdown.
(Original Caption) In The Pacific Ocean - Apollo 12 astronauts, assisted by a Navy swimmer, (2nd from left), sit in their raft awaiting a helicopter pickup by Navy helicopter (above), after a successful splashdown in the ?Command Module. Left to right: Alan Bean, swimmer, Richard Gordon, and Charles Conrad. (NASA)
(Original Caption) Cape Kennedy, Fla.: After suiting up, Apollo 12 astronauts head for transfer van for trip to Launch Complex 39A and their blast-off for the moon November 14th. Charles Conrad, Commander, is followed by Richard Gordon, CM Pilot; and Alan Bean, LM Pilot (mostly hidden), brings up the rear. Technicians are unidentified.
This 19 November 1969 file photo released by NASA shows one of the astronauts of the Apollo 12 space mission conducting experiments on the moon's surface with a camera. An Apollo / Saturn V space vehicle launched the Apollo 12 astronauts Charles 'Pete' Conrad, Jr., commander, Richard F. Gordon, command module pilot, and Alan L. Bean, lunar module pilot from the Kennedy Space Center, on November 14, 1969, on the Apollo 12 United States' second manned lunar landing mission. AFP PHOTO NASA (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES : Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean climbs down the lunar module ?Intrepid?, joining Pete Conrad on the Moon. The second lunar landing mission, Apollo 12 proved the astronauts could make a precise landing. It also gave the crew a chance for a unique rendezvous with the robotic explorer Surveyor 3, which had been on the Moon since 1967. Conrad and Bean spent more than 31 hours on the surface before rejoining crewmate Dick Gordon orbiting overhead in the command module Yankee Clipper. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
This 19 November 1969 file photo released by NASA shows one of the astronauts of the Apollo 12 space mission conducting experiment on the moon's surface with a camera. An Apollo / Saturn V space vehicle launched the Apollo 12 astronauts Charles 'Pete' Conrad, Jr., commander, Richard F. Gordon, command module pilot, and Alan L. Bean, lunar module pilot from the Kennedy Space Center, on November 14, 1969, on the Apollo 12 United States' second manned lunar landing mission. AFP PHOTO NASA (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 16: Charles Conrad - Commander, Richard Gordon - Command Module pilot and Alan Bean - Lunar Module pilot, are pictured in front of a boiler plate training Apollo Command Module. Apollo 12, the second manned lunar landing mission, was launched on 14th November 1969. It landed on the area of the Moon?s surface known as the Ocean of Storms, very near an earlier unmanned probe, Surveyor 3, which was visited on the mission. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
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For the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11's moon landing, Bean exhibited his paintings of lunar scenes at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum in Washington.

Bean's lunar quest came just four months after American Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on the moon in NASA's historic Apollo 11 mission in July 1969.

Bean served as lunar module pilot on Apollo 12. He and crew mate Pete Conrad explored the moon's surface and conducted experiments while Richard Gordon orbited overhead in the command module, scouting landing sites for future moon missions.

"I remember once looking back at Earth and starting to think, 'Gee, that's beautiful.' Then I said to myself, 'Quit screwing off and go collect rocks.' We figured reflection wasn't productive," Bean told People magazine in 1981.

The mission was a success, even though it started with a jolt. Shortly after liftoff, the rocket was struck by lightning but the crew was able to continue the three-day flight to the moon. Bean and Conrad spent more than 31 hours on the lunar surface, including more than seven hours working outside of the module.

In 1973, Bean commanded the second mission to Skylab, the first U.S. space station. Along with crew mates Owen Garriott and Jack Lousma, he spent 59 days in low-Earth orbit.

Bean later played a key role in preparing future astronauts, serving in that role until the first flight of the space shuttle in 1981. He even worked with "Star Trek" actress Nichelle Nichols on outreach efforts to prospective astronauts.

 

'LIVE YOUR DREAM'

His decision in 1981 to give up his NASA career to become a full-time artist surprised some of his colleagues.

"You have to live your dream even if other people think it's screwed up," Bean told a 2010 NASA oral history interview. "About half the astronauts thought it was a midlife crisis or something. The other half, the ones that were more right-brain, thought it was a pretty good idea."

Bean remembered telling a senior NASA official named George Abbey the reason he was leaving the space agency.

"I said, 'I'm going to be an artist,'" Bean recalled. "If he hadn't had the window behind him, he would have gone over backwards. ... His first comment: 'Can you earn a living at that?' ... I said, 'I don't know, but if I can't I'm going to go to work at Jack in the Box (the fast-food hamburger chain)."

Working at his home in Houston, Bean created paintings that focused on the Apollo missions, with images of himself and other astronauts on the moon rendered with the authenticity in lighting and color that only an eyewitness could provide. His paintings sold for tens of thousands of dollars apiece.

His former colleagues became admirers. Armstrong once said, "Alan Bean and his 'astroartistry' recreate the drama and excitement of man's exploration of the moon as only could be chronicled by one who has been there."

"I think I would like to be remembered in the end as an astronaut and an artist," Bean told People. "I think everyone can do more than one thing with his life."

Bean was born on March 15, 1932, in Wheeler, Texas, and grew up in Fort Worth. He aspired to become a pilot and started flight training at age 17. He earned a degree in aeronautical engineering at the University of Texas, then was commissioned as an officer in the Navy.

He trained as a Navy test pilot under Conrad, who years later during their astronaut days played a key role in getting Bean designated for the Apollo 11 mission.

The retired Navy captain lived with his wife, Leslie, in Houston. He had two children by a previous marriage. (Reporting and writing by Will Dunham Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus Editing by Susan Thomas)

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