Sunday, May 27, 2018

Alan Bean (1932 - 2018)

He's not even famous enough to trend on Facebook, but he's one of only 12 in our species to have walked on the moon. Alan was probably one of the most "human" and least "macho" of the astronauts: While all of other the astronauts jockeyed to be first on the moon, Alan didn't care what number he'd be, so long as he got there. While the majority of the astronauts seemed to live their lives fearlessly, Alan was quite up front about his fears: I know in some interview, he talked about how on the windows of the Lunar Module, it was 1/4 inch of glass separating life from death at all times. And while the other astronauts spent what little free time they did working on cars and hunting and fishing, Alan liked painting, and he continued to do so throughout his post-Apollo life.

While some may read that and paint him in some "less" of a light than the other astronauts, he was anything but incompetent. He was a test pilot, logging over 7,100 hours in a profession that doesn't forgive error. He was the fourth person to walk on the moon in the Ocean of Storms, in Apollo 12 under his test pilot instructor, Pete Conrad, no less. He, Pete, and Dick Gordon (all deceased, now) were probably the most tightly-knit crew of all that went to the moon, having all been friends beforehand. He also co-saved the mission of Apollo 12. When lightning rode the spacecraft’s contrail all the way up and down to Earth, all onboard electronics scrambled, causing them to fly blind. A (now-famous) flight controller named John Aaron issued a command to "try SCE to auxiliary". Astronauts train for a lot of situations, but nobody trained for that, let alone knew anything about this so-called “SCE” switch. But Alan did: He found it, flipped it, telemetry was restored, and they went to the moon.

Alan went on later to command Skylab 3, which set a world record at the time for 59 days in space. He also served as backup commander of the Apollo-Soyuz mission, which famously involved the US meeting up with its formal space-rival, Russia, for the first time.

Rest in peace, Captain.

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