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Recent news of a strange signal from deep space turned out to be a false alarm, not an alien transmission, but it did beg the question: what kind of civilization would be able to communicate from across the universe? Illustration: Heather Seidel for The Wall Street Journal.
HE was an astronaut on the second manned mission to the moon and the fourth man to walk on its surface.
Alan Bean, 85, is one of only 12 people to have taken “one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind” on the moon.
The lunar module pilot was one of two crew members on-board Apollo 12 who walked on the moon days after it launched on November 14, 1969.
The crew’s primary mission objectives included an extensive series of lunar exploration tasks by the lunar module and the deployment of the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package to be left on the moon’s surface to gather seismic, scientific and engineering data.
Mr Bean has logged 1,671 hours and 45 minutes in space — 10 hours and 26 minutes of that were spent on the moon and in Earth’s orbit.
His experiences in space have led Mr Bean to develop some interesting theories about the possibility of alien life.
“I do not believe that anyone from outer space has ever visited the Earth,” Mr Bean told news.com.au from his home in Houston, Texas.
“One of reasons I don’t believe they have been here is that civilisations that are more advanced are more altruistic and friendly — like Earth, which is better than it used to be — so they would have landed and said ‘we come in peace and we know from our studies you have cancer that kills people, we solved that problem 50 years ago, here’s the gadget we put on a person’s chest that will cure it, we will show you how to make it’.
“Just like some day, say 1000 years from now, when we can go to another star and see a planet, that’s what we would do because we will know how to cure cancer, cure birth defects, so we would teach them.”
Mr Bean doesn’t doubt for a second that we are not alone.
“There’s so many billions of stars and these stars have planets around them so there must be statistically many planets around many stars that have formed life,” he said.
“Maybe some of them are like our life was 100,000 years ago, and some of them are like we are now, and there are probably some out there that are a 10,000 years in the future from where we are now.”
Mr Bean resigned from NASA in 1981 to become an artist. In his paintings he depicts the experiences of astronauts, including himself, who have walked on the moon. It’s a small club but it’s also one that he draws never-ending inspiration from.
“Even if I lived to 185 years old I wouldn’t run out of ideas of things to paint on this topic,” he said.
He uses textured and lunar tools, “sprinkled with bits of Apollo spacecraft and a touch of moon dust” to create his masterpieces, which sell for tens or hundreds of thousands of US dollars each via his website.
“I’m the only person on Earth who can do these paintings (from a first hand perspective),” he said.
“I work seven days a week painting to this day.”
WHAT IT WAS LIKE ON THE MOON
Mr Bean still remembers the first time he saw an “earthrise” from the moon.
“It was hard to believe (we) were 235,189 miles from home,” he said.
“I never heard any astronaut say that he wanted to go to the moon so he would be able to look back and see Earth.
“We all wanted to see what the moon looked like close up. Yet, for most of us, the most memorable sight was not of the moon, but of our beautiful blue and white home, moving majestically around the sun, all alone in infinite black space.”
Mr Bean said the Earth appeared small.
“To think everyone I ever knew, saw on television, or at the Super Bowl, was down there on the skin of that beautiful, colourful sphere,” he said.
“It did not seem possible. (I thought) there is just not enough room, and folks on the bottom will surely fall off.”
He didn’t leave anything personal behind on the moon because, according to him, that would have made him a “bad astronaut”.
The speed of which they travelled on the return trip was something that stunned the former naval aviator, who was used to flying at top speeds of about 600 miles per hour.
“We were travelling at speeds that are difficult for most humans, including us, to really grasp,” he said.
“For example, after a brief 11-minute rocket ride, we were in Earth’s orbit travelling at 17,431 miles per hour.
“That is about 290 times faster than the 60 miles per hour speed limit we drive our cars here on Earth.
“There were no sign posts along the way. As we sped along, we did not zip past any cities, towns, clouds, other spaceships, or anything else, for that matter.
“Except for the first few hours after leaving earth orbit, earth did not seem to move away or get smaller, and the moon did not seem to move toward us or get larger.
“If we waited an hour or so and looked out again, earth would look smaller … maybe, and the moon would look larger … maybe.”
Mr Bean said the main thing he took away from the Apollo 12 mission was that “humans can do a lot of amazing things”.
“President Kennedy said we were going to go to moon by the end of the decade (in the 1960s),” Mr Bean said.
“It was an impossible dream and human beings got behind the whole idea and planned and worked to achieve it.
“I think the most important thing about us going to the moon back in the 60s was not what we invented but the feeling that throughout the world there are humans that can do a lot more than we imagined we could before.
“I know humans will go back again some day.”
Now when Mr Bean looks at the moon at night he fixes his eyes on where he once landed and reflects on how he was apart of something so special.
“It changed my attitude that we were able to do it and I thought a lot more of myself and friends,” he said.
“I thought ‘wow look what we did’.
“Now when I look at the moon, it just seems so far, far away.”
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