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The Best of Bean

A collection of otherworldly paintings goes on display at the National Air and Space Museum.

alan bean homeward bound
(Courtesy Alan Bean)

On July 16, 2009, the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11, the National Air and Space Museum will premiere the exhibition "Alan Bean: Painting Apollo, First Artist On Another World." The exhibit, which runs through January 13, is the largest collection of Bean’s work to date, with 40 original paintings and drawings scheduled for display, along with various artifacts including his Apollo 12 spacesuit, pressure helmet and gloves.

Bean was the fourth man to walk on the moon; and although he went on to command a Skylab mission and log more than 1,600 hours in space, he has dedicated the past 28 years to painting his memories of Apollo.

Homeward Bound (above), painted in acrylic on aircraft plywood in 1994, is Bean's homage to the first astronaut crew to leave Earth. “On Christmas morning in 1968,” writes exhibit curator Carolyn Russo, “the world anxiously awaited word from Apollo 8, as its crew prepared to leave lunar orbit. As they fired their engine to set them on course for home, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders were out of touch on the far side of the Moon. If the engine burn didn’t succeed, they would be trapped in lunar orbit...Bean painted Apollo 8 as it emerged from behind the Moon and Houston heard Lovell announce, ‘Please be informed, there is a Santa Claus.’ ”

See the photo gallery below for more of Bean’s paintings and the stories behind them.

Tiptoeing on the Ocean of Storms

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(Courtesy Alan Bean)

1982, acrylic on Masonite

About this painting, Alan Bean recalls, “I ran next to this crater as if my legs would never get tired. On Earth, I weighed about 150 pounds, and my suit and backpack weighed another 150. On the moon, with its one-sixth gravity, my equipment and I only weighed 50 pounds, making me feel as if I could run forever. The suit is stiff and hard to move at the knee and hip joints, and you learn very quickly to run by keeping the legs stiff and using ankle motion, as if you are dancing on tiptoe.”

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