It is really important to me that all of you learn about Al Bean, astronaut on Apollo 12 and the fourth man to walk on the moon, who after 20 years in the US Navy and 18 years with NASA during which he spent 69 days in space and more than 10 hours doing EVAs on the moon , retired to become a painter.

He is my favorite astronaut for any number of reasons, but he’s also one of my favorite visual artists.

Like, look at this stuff????

It’s all so expressive and textured and colorful! He literally painted his own experience on the moon! And that’s just really fucking cool to me!

Just look at this! This is one of my absolute favorite emotions of all time. Is Anyone Out There? is like the ultimate reaction image. Any time I have an existential crisis, this is how I picture myself.

And then there’s this one:

The Fantasy

For all of the six Apollo missions to land on the moon, there was no spare time. Every second of their time on the surface was budgeted to perfection: sleeping, eating, putting on the suits, entering and exiting the LEM, rock collection, setting up longterm experiments to transmit data back to Earth, everything. These timetables usually got screwed over by something, but for the most part the astronauts stuck to them.

The crew of Apollo 12 (Pete Conrad, Al Bean, and Dick Gordon) had other plans. Conrad and Bean had snuck a small camera with a timer into the LEM to take a couple pictures together on the moon throughout the mission. They had hidden the key for the timer in one of the rock collection bags, with the idea being to grab the key soon after landing, take some fun photos here and there, and then sneak the camera back to Earth to develop them. They had practiced where they would hide the key and how to get it out from under the collected rocks back on Earth dozens of times.

But when they got to the moon, the key was nowhere to be found. Al Bean spent precious time digging through the collection bags before he called it off. The camera had been pushing their luck anyways, he couldn’t afford to spend anymore time not on the mission objectives. Conrad and Bean continued the mission as per the NASA plan while Dick Gordon orbited overhead.

Fast forward to the very end of the mission. Bean and Conrad are doing last checks of the LEM before they enter for the last time and depart from the moon. As Bean is stowing one of the collection bags, the camera key falls out. The unofficially planned photo time has come and gone, and he tosses the key over his shoulder to rest forever on the surface of the moon.

This painting, The Fantasy, is that moment. There have never been three people on the moon at the same time, there was never an unofficial photo shoot on the moon, this picture could never have happened.

“The most experienced astronaut was designated commander, in charge of all aspects of the mission, including flying the lunar module. Prudent thinking suggested that the next-most-experienced crew member be assigned to take care of the command module, since it was our only way back home. Pete had flown two Gemini flights, the second with Dick as his crewmate. This left the least experienced – me – to accompany the commander on the lunar surface.

“I was the rookie. I had not flown at all; yet I got the prize assignment. But not once during the three years of training which preceded our mission did Dick say that it wasn’t fair and that he wished he could walk on the moon, too. I do not have his unwavering discipline or strength of character.

“We often fantasized about Dick’s joining us on the moon but we never found a way. In my paintings, though, I can have it my way. Now, at last, our best friend has come the last sixty miles.” – Al Bean, about The Fantasy.