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The forgotten true story of Alan Bean's unlikely journey to the moon

  • Astronaut and artist Alan Bean died at the age of 86 this weekend.
  • He was the fourth human to travel on the Moon as part of the Apollo 12 crew and spend 31 hours on the lunar surface.
  • Before he got there, the astronaut had to survive his first, hectic start into space and help the crew find the right path to the moon in a forgotten episode he later noted "was one of my happier hours." Here's the

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    It's November 14, 1969, and Alan Bean is shot into space for the first time in his career.

    He sits in the command and service module of Apollo 12, the Yankee Clipper Below him, five giant engines roar and produce 7.6 million pounds of thrust. "Boy, there's no doubt in your head when the thing picks up," Bean later comments, "The whore comes out."

    The other crewmembers, Pete Conrad and Richard Gordon Jr., are veterans of previous missions, but after only 36 seconds of flying time, they come across something they never expected. "What the hell was that?" Conrad says. A few seconds later Gordon adds, "I've lost a lot of stuff, I do not know …" Flames of light flicker as the [YankeeClipper built to protect its components from power surges shuts off its instruments.

    Apollo 12 launch from the Kennedy Space Center


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The crew does not know it yet, but the missile was hit twice at takeoff, once 36 seconds after launch and again 17 seconds later. The rocket is one and a half kilometers high and moves faster than 15,000 feet per second when Conrad says, "Okay, we just lost the platform, gang, I do not know what happened here, we skipped everything in the world." The data stream from the service module had simply stopped. Bean thinks that maybe the entire section of the spaceship has dropped off.

"That was not a mistake we ever made," says Bean NASA historian. "I said [to myself] & # 39; We get ready to go into orbit without a service module."

"Put him over there"

Imagine the stereotypical "Right Stuff" astronaut with confidence And that was not Alan Bean, a man who had to learn to express his thoughts about high performing members with more experience. "I am a modest person, and that hurts from the beginning," he will say later. After a four-year service with a jet fighter squadron in Jacksonville, Fla., Bean attended the Navy Test Pilot School and flies various types of aircraft Fought World War II, which describes most of the earlier selections for the astronaut corps.

"Never come to the moon without a hammer."

In October 1963, Bean is named part of the third group of astronauts by NASA. He serves as backup for Gemini 10 and Apollo 9, but rated his performance as listless. "I would wait until the flight director said something, and I would do it," he recalls later. I could not work independently, I did not have the confidence that I knew enough to do this job the way it should be done. "

Young Bean sees himself as another, a creative mind in an organization full of engineers and literal thinkers. "Every time I came to a meeting, I was intimidated," he says. He wants to question authority as Buzz Aldrin does, but Bean does not feel he has the necessary training or experience. Bean, like everyone else in NASA, wants to be part of Apollo Moonshot. But he takes on another task – he designs long-term missions, follow-up missions – with his distinctive humility. He lays Apollo out of his thoughts and tries to apply his creative thinking to space hardware that will one day become Skylab (which he will occupy later.)

Portrait of the Apollo 12 lunar landing mission team. From left to right they are: Commander, Charles "Pete" Conrad Jr .; Command Module Pilot, Richard F. Gordon Jr .; and Lunar Module pilot, Alan L. Bean.


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"I'm sure [NASA officials] thought things like," Let him go over and work on this new project. He has many ideas. Bring him over there in the corner … He knows what he's doing, although he can not connect completely, especially with the bosses, "says Bean.

And then Conrad Bean asks for Apollo 12th NASA Emagazine.credit-suisse.com/app/art … = 263 & lang = DE The superiors deny the request, but Conrad manages to recover from an airplane accident following the death of Clifton Williams: the head of the astronaut program, impressed by Bean & #. 39; quiet professionalism, allowing him to play moonwalks for the Moonshotcrew, is totally surprised and undauntedly enthusiastic.

"When you get ready to go to the moon, every day is like Christmas and your birthday in one," says he later says, can you imagine anything better? "

" What a start? "

After all this, Alan Bean's first space launch went horribly wrong in less than a minute. He stares at the warning lights, but he sees that the batteries still run out of power. He keeps telling this to his crew and mission control as the team tries to figure out what happened and what to do.

The bottom suggests resetting the seemingly ailing systems, but Bean hesitates. "One of the rules of space travel is that you do not make a power switch with this electrical system, unless you have a good idea of ​​why you do it," he will say later. "I knew we had power, so I did not want to make any changes, I thought we could just fly to orbit." (Gordon agrees with Bean in a technical debriefing in 1969 to wait and think, "I think it was a wise decision, and we've all learned that arbitrarily switching the electrical system can get you into more trouble." [19659028] Advertising – read below

"When you come ready to go to the moon, every day like Christmas and your birthday."

After some reflection, and as it becomes clearer that lightning was the culprit, Bean starts resetting the electrical systems and is credited with having a back-up power switch on the signal conditioning electronics that, when used, helps to reduce the time it takes to recover from the incident and prevent the mission from aborting

The fuel cells need to be restarted after a brief but frightening display of power loss Earth in an ailing spaceship, but have plenty of composure to find out why a lightning strike could cause the fuel cells to register an outflow:

Bean: That's the way it must have been. They both feed at the same time. Because you know, when you stir one up, it takes the fuel cell from the other.

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Conrad: Yes, and if you both point out of them you have the whole shooting game. I think we just released a big static electric discharge that drained the spacecraft for about 2 seconds, you know, and then it just fell off.

Bean: What a start. [19659038] After 25 minutes of flight, the power grid and the fuel cells are back in operation. But there is another challenge: the astronauts must re-ignite the engine to leave Earth's orbit for their lunar target – without automated navigation.

"God, I hope these are the stars"

In the years before his moon In his spare time, Alan Bean often climbed into the simulator to look around "I spent a lot of time in the simulator in the simulator of the simulator Command module, looked at stars, learned stars, and learned where the telescope went, "he says. "I've never had such a job … I just did it, and I learned it with the star charts."

His motive to explore the views in the simulator seems to be curiosity, mixed with a dose of caution. "I have always been a person who has spent a lot of time learning things," he says. [and I would say] "I think I'll take a look at the stars for a while," pointing at the spaceship and learning it, I thought one day I might need it. "

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Now, during Apollo 12, the crew orbits the planet and prepares for its journey to the moon. Put simply, the spacecraft must be in the right direction before the Yankee Clipper can fire its main engine (the Service Propulsion System) and launch the trio into lunar orbit. "Usually we could always call the automatic program in practice," says Bean. Okay, we can not do it this time. "

Gordon will use a complex sextant to show the way. The instrument features a wide field scanning telescope that allows Gordon to locate a star. A second 28x telescope will then more accurately measure the location of the star relative to the spacecraft and the planet.

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The Navigation Museum describes its use as follows:

The astronaut has sighted two celestial bodies: two stars or one star and the horizon of the earth or moon, adjusted the optics until they were aligned, then pressed a button that marked reading the instrument and the time. One of the axes of the telescopes was fixed so that the process of finding the earth or the moon was typically to orient the entire spacecraft until that body came into view.

The measurement is performed as soon as the Yankee Clipper emerges from the glare of the sun and hovers over a dark planet below. The goal is to measure and align the spacecraft as the mission plan envisages. Time is crucial. Space missions are more timely than decency. Resources and orbital mechanics depend on taking action at specific times.

Bean remembers his time in the simulator when Gordon and Conrad discuss the best stars and how they can align the spacecraft so the telescope can spot them. It's the kind of moment Bean avoided his career – putting his ideas ahead of more experienced astronauts. But on the mission copies you can hear how Bean asks for star cards while the others deliberately act.

Bean remembers using his simulator knowledge to find the best place, section 12 on the map, to find bright stars:

I'll refer him to this command module here, because I know there's one bright star there, and we'll know what that is. "So I did that. If you check the intercom, I told them where to go … I had selected one we could not miss, and I would have chosen another, so he says: There is a beginning. "… I said," That's the twelfth number, shoot her. "

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This conversation is hard to verify When the astronauts solve the problem, beans become posts usually listed as "mutilated".

Conrad I finished my [garble] pencils, here.

Bean: [Garble]. 19659037] Gordon: 12-1 / 2 – Two Stars [garble]

It is undisputed that the crew decided where Gordon should aim at the telescope and went on to do something hello Gh-Print Navigation. "He did it, he straightened her," Bean says later. "And I thought, God, I hope that's the stars." If we chose a wrong star, then there's only one mistake, and then you're back in first place. "

For Bean This is a highlight of his career. It is an important moment to consider the moon landing and lunar migrations that await. But he captures the memories of that moment when his inquisitive character and his willingness to open up help the mission succeed.

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"I did not do much at the start," says Bean later. "But this time was one of my better times."

The combustion is progressing and the Yankee Clipper is on its way. Bean stares at the view as he is. " You should look out the window," he tells his comrades as the planet goes back.

" Yes, you better," replies Conrad. "You will not see it for a while."


On April 17, 1967, NASA's Surveyor 3 spacecraft launched from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on a mission to the lunar surface. Just over two years after it landed on the Moon with the goal of paving the way for a future human mission, the Surveyor 3 spacecraft was visited by Apollo 12 Commander Charles Conrad Jr. and astronaut Alan L. Bean November 20, 1969.


Bean and Conrad landed on the lunar surface on November 19, 1969. The couple made two forays on the surface and collected lunar material and parts of the Surveyor 3 probe. The mission was a success and the materials and data are still used by modern scientists and mission planners.

On the surface, Bean showed his usual thinking, which was to mark his life and his later choice as a career as an artist and author. One of their tasks was to install a plutonium-powered power generator, but the radioactive material stuck in its shielded container. Bean's solution – hit with a hammer – did not sit well with Conrad, but in the end that worked . Bean's advice: "Never get to the moon without a hammer"

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