US & Canada

Alan Bean, moon-walking astronaut and artist, dies aged 86

Apollo 12 Astronaut in his painting studio, Houston, Texas.
Image caption Alan Bean's paintings reflected his lifelong fascination with space

Former US astronaut Alan Bean, who was the fourth man to walk on the Moon, has died in Texas aged 86, his family has said.

In later life he became an accomplished artist, producing paintings that were inspired by space.

His family said he had fallen ill two weeks ago in Indiana and died peacefully at a hospital in Houston.

Astronaut Mike Massimino described Bean as "the most extraordinary person I ever met".

"He was a one-of-a-kind combination of technical achievement as an astronaut and artistic achievement as a painter," said Massimino, who flew on two space shuttle missions.

Alan Bean, a former US Navy test pilot, was selected by Nasa as a trainee in 1963.

He went into space twice, the first time in November 1969 as the lunar module pilot on the Apollo 12 Moon-landing mission.

He later described how complex and risky the mission had been: "It was more science fiction to us, I think, than it was to the average public.

"We knew how difficult it was. We knew how many things had to go right. This is like going half way across the Sahara Desert and stopping your car and getting out and camping out for a couple of days and then hoping when you start it up the battery works because if doesn't you're up creek."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Alan Bean commanded the lunar module for Apollo 12

In 1973 he was commander of the second crewed flight to Skylab - America's first space station.

He retired from Nasa in 1981 and carved a successful career as an artist. His paintings, inspired by space travel, featured lunar boot prints as well as small pieces of his mission patches which were stained by Moon dust.

"While he captured these great scenes from history, and scenes that never could be captured by a camera, and only in painting, he would also basically sprinkle them with moon dust," space history specialist Robert Z Pearlman told the BBC.

"And so they are a tremendous legacy for not just him but the Apollo programme in general."

The three astronauts who preceded Alan Bean to the moon's surface were Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on Apollo 11 in July 1969, and Charles Conrad who was also on the Apollo 12 mission.

Of the four men, only Aldrin is still alive, now aged 88.

In all, 24 people have flown to the Moon and 12 have set foot on it.

Alan Bean is survived by his wife Leslie, a sister and two children from a previous marriage.

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