Apollo 12 was the second NASA mission to land humans on the Moon in November 1969. Of 12's three crewmen- astronauts Pete Conrad, Alan Bean and Dick Gordon-only Conrad and Bean took the Lunar Module to the surface of the Moon, landed, and walked on the cratered Ocean of Storms. Bean also spent two months in the weightless environment aboard Skylab 3 in 1973. He had planned to pilot the space shuttle but decided to retire in 1980, one year before the first shuttle flew in space.
Apollo 12 made space history a long time ago. Best remembered for lightning striking the giant Saturn 5 rocket on takeoff, Apollo 12 is also notable for its pinpoint landing next to the abandoned Surveyor 2 robot spacecraft and for returning a lunar rock that chemically matched some tektites found on Earth.
Only Alan Bean and Dick Gordon survive, both men on the cusp of 80. Pete Conrad, one of the most colorful NASA astronauts from the old days, died in a motorcycle accident a few years ago.
Today, only Alan Bean actively speaks about the historic mission and what it was like to be the fourth man on the Moon. An accomplished artist, Bean paints lunar scenes both realistic and fanciful; his canvases are highly collectible and command thousands of dollars per head at art auctions.
Alan Bean, a decorated U.S. Navy pilot and aerospace engineer, was in Vermont recently to accept an honorary doctor of fine arts degree at Green Mountain College.
I had the honor of meeting Dr. Bean and chatting with him at the college about the past and future of NASA and humans in space. I also presented the former astronaut with a copy of my book about lunar science, titled "Inconstant Moon" published by Xlibris/Random House; it discusses some of the unusual lunar rocks returned by the Apollo 12 crew-