Alan Bean: First Artist on the Moon

Marianne Dyson, June 2018

Apollo 12 Astronaut and Artist Alan Bean who died on May 26, 2018, kindly granted an interview to this former flight controller who was considering a new career as a children’s writer back in 1994. After all these years, I find his words still inspiring, and I hope you will also.

The May 1994 issue of Odyssey Magazine included my interview and photo of Alan Bean. Photo © Marianne Dyson.
The May 1994 issue of Odyssey Magazine included my interview and photo of Alan Bean. Photo ©Marianne Dyson.

First Artist on the Moon: An Interview with Apollo Astronaut Alan Bean

by Marianne J. Dyson

As a boy growing up in Texas, Alan Bean fell in love with flying. He built precise model planes and hung them from the ceiling of his room, “like birds dressed up for a party in shiny decals and brightly colored paints.” Through a determination to always do his best, Bean became a Navy pilot and then a NASA astronaut. In November 1969, he stepped out of the Apollo 12 lunar module and became the fourth man to walk on the moon. He returned to space in 1973 as Commander of Skylab 3, the world’s first space station. Although he has not returned to space for over two decades, he returns often, in spirit. Bean left NASA in 1981 to pursue a new career as a space artist. He recently took out from work on his latest painting at his home studio in Houston, Texas, to talk with ODYSSEY.

The switch from being a test pilot and astronaut to being an artist could be called the ultimate career change. Was the transition difficult?

Well, being a test pilot and an astronaut is a lot more dangerous. You have to have intense training and a certain personality and work habits to be successful and survive. That’s not the case in art, where anyone can create what they feel is art. However, it takes longer to be a good artist. It took me about six years from the time I became an astronaut until I felt I was a really good astronaut. It’s taken me 12 years until I felt I was a really good artist.

You’ve ridden rockets to the moon and walked in space and received all kinds of recognition and awards for those achievements—how do those thrills compare to the rewards you get as an artist?

They’re really about the same. I think the feeling of a job well done on a daily basis, no matter what the job is, is one of the most important things that a person can feel to have a happy life. Awards come from time to time, but effort comes on a daily basis.

I have heard that there is real moon dust in your paintings. Is that true?

I wanted to put moondust in them, but I didn’t have any moon rocks; the government has all of those. But one day I realized NASA gave me the patches from my suit—the NASA patch, the American flag, the Apollo 12 patch. They were dirty with moondust, so not I cut up those patches into little bits and I sprinkle them around in the paintings. There are minute quantities [of the patches and moondust] in all of them.

Which painters that ODYSSEY readers might be familiar with have influenced your work?

American painters Charles Russell and Frederick Remington have inspired me. French artist Claude Monet is my favorite artist. When you look at Remington’s and Russell’s paintings, you can figure out the story they’re telling of a frontier and adventures that occurred on it. If I want to tell the story of this [space] frontier, I’ve go to be able to paint my spaceships as well as they painted their horses; I’ve got to be able to paint my astronauts as well as they painted cowboys and Indians. Now, Moment doesn’t tell stories as well, but he does things that are beautiful to look at. I try to combine some of Remington’s and Russell’s storytelling and realism with some of Monet’s color variety and beauty in my work.

Imagine that in 50 years, you’re still alive and our nation builds an art museum on the moon. What would you say if people ask to name it after you?

I’d say it would be very appropriate because I am the first artist to have painted the moon. Maybe some day they will have an art museum on the moon, and I hope they have a painting or two of mine in there. I’ve never really thought about it. But I think someday it will happen.

END published interview

I still have the audio cassette tape of this interview which of course had to be significantly cut to fit on two pages in a children’s magazine. Not included in the article is perhaps my favorite quote of Alan Bean: “The moon is gray, but I have the desire in my heart to paint these beautiful colors.”

In the yet-unfinished [in May 1994] painting of the moon, the artist [Alan Bean] uses a cathedral of colors similar to those he thinks Monet, his favorite artist, might have used. Photo © Marianne Dyson shown as published in Odyssey Magazine.
In the yet-unfinished [in May 1994] painting of the moon, the artist [Alan Bean] uses a cathedral of colors similar to those he thinks Monet, his favorite artist, might have used. Photo ©Marianne Dyson shown as published in Odyssey Magazine.
I sent him a copy of the magazine after it was published and included a sonnet that he inspired me to write. To honor his advice to put in the effort required to become a “good” writer, I chose the most difficult form of a poem I could think of, one that requires precise rhythm, meter, word choice, and rhyme: a Petrarchan sonnet. (This poem is included in Space Poems.)

The Artist's Moon

a Petrarchan sonnet by Marianne Dyson


The moon is gray, but not for those still free -

to dare the red of love, to stroke the sky

with flaming orange and silver ships that fly

beyond the pallid dawn of history.

The dreamers' moon is cast in rosy light,

a canvas bright with crystal beads and hopes

that lure the spirit high upon its ancient slopes

and paint its hills with hues of future sight.


The hero's brush disturbs the settled lust

of youthful goals, long patient human souls

who yearn with passion's palette for the day

they thrust aside the current veil of dust

and see creation's art, a mural whole

with fingerprints of God in lunar gray.

Writing about Space

Analog readers, watch for my guest editorial on Gender Parity in the July/August issue.

My next book, coauthored with Buzz Aldrin, To the Moon and Back: My Apollo 11 Adventure, a pop-up book from National Geographic, is available for preorder now from Amazon. Look for it in stores in October.

Speaking about Space

I offer programs for school-aged children up through senior citizens, as well as science workshops for students and teachers. Please consider me for Author Visits.

After a talk with students at Laredo Public Library on May 15, 2018, I was interviewed by Telemundo TV. The clip aired during the local evening news. Photo by Rick Carrillo.
After a talk with students at Laredo Public Library on May 15, 2018, I was interviewed by Telemundo TV. The clip aired during the local evening news. Photo by Rick Carrillo.

Thursday, June 7, vendor fair participant, Setting the Trend, Librarians as Leaders conference. Clear Falls High School, 4380 Village Way, League City, TX.

September 21-23, Science GOH at FenCon XV in Dallas. See their website for program details. Writer GOH is Larry Niven.

October 2, Instructor for first class of Women and Space course at Rice University’s Glasscock School of Continuing Studies.

October 12, Featured speaker on Friday at noon at the National Science Teachers Association conference in Reno, Nevada.

See my contact page for a complete appearance schedule and photos from previous events.

Make Time for the Stars

by Marianne Dyson

March 2018

Pioneering female astronomer Vera Rubin (1928-2016), who proved the existence of dark matter with her observations of the Andromeda Galaxy, told me that observing the stars out the window by standing on her bed as a child was what inspired her choice of career. I exclaimed, “I did that, too!” [Ref: Space and Astronomy, pp. 210-11]

Yet many children today can’t see the stars in the evening because it is still daylight when they go to bed, especially during the summer months. Thankfully, we have the power to change this by opting out of daylight savings time (DST). Arizona, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands have already opted out. Congress controls standard time and sets the dates for when DST starts and stops (currently second Sunday in March and first Sunday in November), but allows states to opt out. [Ref: USNO Daylight Time]

So at my local precinct convention after the polls closed last Tuesday, I introduced a resolution for Texas to opt out. It passed unanimously.

The main arguments for stopping DST are that it is not effective in saving energy (the original reason it was instituted) and that it increases traffic fatalities.

With more efficient lighting, and increased use of air conditioning, some studies have shown that DST has a marginal or a negative effect on energy use. A study in 2008 showed about a one percent increase in energy consumption in Indiana after adopting DST. The economic impact is even more severe for states like Texas and Arizona with heavy use of air conditioning in hot summer evenings. [Ref. Daylight Saving Time 2018.]

But the strongest reason to opt out of DST is a study of 21 years of time shifting that found an increase in the number of fatal accidents on the Monday following the spring shift (from sleep deprivation), and also on the Sunday following the fall shift (attributed to people staying out later to take advantage of the extra hour). [Ref: Fatal accidents following changes in daylight savings time.]

Moving clocks forward (from about 6:30 AM to 7:30 AM) also puts high school students, who need to arrive by 7:20 AM in my school district, especially at risk as they wait for buses, walk to school, or drive in the dark. Is even the loss of one young life worth having an extra hour of daylight after dinner for two months in the spring and fall?

Note that there is no actual daylight “saved,” it is only shifted from the morning to the evening. For every person who enjoys that hour of light after dinner, there is another that would prefer to jog or walk their dog in the light before heading off to work in the morning.

But if daylight is preferred by the majority in the evening, then perhaps DST should shift forward in the fall and back in the spring, the opposite of the current system. Then, in December, when it is light for only 9-10 hours (less for higher latitudes), it would be light from about 8:30 AM until 6 PM instead of from 7:30 AM to 5 PM. And in June, when it is light for 14-15 hours (longer for higher latitudes), sunset would be about 8 PM instead of 9 PM, and more kids could see the stars before bed. [Ref: timeanddate.com]

If you’d like your state to opt out of daylight savings, I urge you to introduce planks in your party’s platform and share your opinion with your state and Congressional representations. Let’s make time for the stars!

Writing about Space

I’m happy to announce that my novelette, Europa’s Survivors is a finalist in the Analog Readers Poll, and for a limited time (and to help generate nominations for the Hugo Award: deadline is March 16!), Analog is offering it FREE through their website. It is also included in my story collection called Fly Me to the Moon.

My next book, coauthored with Buzz Aldrin, To the Moon and Back: My Apollo 11 Adventure, a pop-up book from National Geographic, is available for preorder now from Amazon. Look for it in stores/museums in October.

In February, I joined a National Assessment of Educational Progress panel of expert educators and fellow children’s authors (shown here L to R: John Alexander, Lulu Delacre, Marianne Dyson, Michael L. Cooper, and Allison Lassieur) to read and choose examples of fourth-grade writing at the basic, proficient, and advanced levels. Participation in this assessment is why there was no February Science Snacks! (Photo courtesy Marianne Dyson)

Speaking about Space

Whether you’re looking for a role model for female students, a scientist to run a STEM workshop, or a speaker with some unique stories, please consider an author visit. I offer programs appropriate for school-aged children up through senior citizens, as well as science workshops for students and teachers. See my list of programs and prices on the Author Visits tab of my website. Book a fall visit before July to lock in current fees. Here’s my upcoming schedule of events:

Wednesday, March 14, 10:30 AM, children’s space activity & book signing, Brazos Bookstore, 2421 Bissonnet St., Houston. 

March 18-23, attending Lunar & Planetary Science Conference as press looking for science stories.

Saturday, March 24, 9AM-3:30 PM. Selling and signing books at the JSC Annual Craft Fair and Flea Market.

Saturday, April 28, 10 AM-2 PM, volunteer for the Grand Opening of Exploration Green.

May 4-6, May the Fourth Celebration, visit to Nevada Space Center Hall of Fame. Speaking about Science and Science Fiction on Friday evening, attending the dedication of the Nevada Challenger Center Redfield Mission Control and giving a Keynote Address on Saturday.

Tuesday, May 15, 9-10 AM Passion for Space, 10-11 AM, Children’s program, Laredo Public Library.

Tuesday, May 22, author visit to The Westview School.

Friday, May 25, panelist, Comicpalooza, George Brown Convention Center, Houston.

See my website’s contact page for a complete appearance schedule.

Surviving Europa’s Radiation

by Marianne Dyson 

January 2018

There’s no question that the radiation on Europa is lethal. The surface receives about 14,000 rads in an hour. That’s 14 times the dose that is fatal to 100 percent of people exposed. This radiation, lack of atmosphere, and the minus 260-degree temperature make Europa an unlikely future tourist stop.

Yet Europa is near the top of the list for places likely to host alien life. How can life exist in this harsh environment? In a word: Water. Though Europa is about 90 percent the size of our Moon, it may host an ocean containing more water than all of Earth’s oceans combined.

Artist’s concept of Europa Clipper  Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Europa Clipper sits on the moon’s icy surface with Jupiter in the sky and its sample arm extended. Launch is planned as one of the first uses of the Space Launch System as early as Spring 2022. [Reference]

Water is not only essential for life, it is an excellent shield for radiation. Just four inches of ice can reduce Europa’s surface dose to the level of a CT scan (about one rad). However, a long-term stay, like getting a CT scan every hour, could still be deadly if cells are damaged faster than they can be repaired or replaced. One hundred hours at this dose level would kill 5 percent of people within six weeks of exposure, and the rest would have an increased risk of cancer.

So future human visitors to Europa will want to send robots ahead to dig under or drill through the surface for protection from radiation. Besides, under the icy shield of the surface is also the place to find alien life.

Dim sunlight (Jupiter is five times the distance of Earth from the sun) would not penetrate far through the thick surface ice. But life doesn’t actually need sunlight, as scientists discovered back in 1977 when they observed giant tube worms living off of hydrogen sulfide bubbling out of volcanic vents in the sunless depths of the Pacific Ocean. Similar hydrothermal vents may exist at the base of Europa’s ocean, constantly heated by the tidal tug-of-war as Europa passes between Jupiter and its Mars-sized moon, Ganymede. The tidal forces also create dramatic upheavals on the surface that may be dangerous to visitors but offer exciting possibilities for research.

As a writer, I couldn’t resist setting a story on Europa. How might people get there and stay there safely? What kind of bacteria and viruses might co-evolve there? How might human activity, requiring energy and releasing waste, impact them? Since any existing life would not likely survive transport to Earth for study, what equipment and skills would scientists need to unlock the mysteries of alien life and distinguish it from manmade contamination? What kind of people would be motivated enough to devote years of their lives and risk getting cancer to explore this distant world? Would a young scientist with terminal cancer perhaps find a way to go so her final days might count for something?

If you’re curious to see how I answered these questions, I invite you to read, Europa’s Survivors, first published in the March/April 2017 issue of Analog Science Fiction magazine, and now included in my collection of previously published stories called, Fly Me to the Moon and other stories which is available in print or eBook form.

Fly Me to the Moon cover
Fly Me to the Moon and other stories now contains my novelette, Europa’s Survivors.

Writing about Space

Thursday January 25 at 2 AM CST to Tuesday, January 30 at 2 AM CST: Fly Me to the Moon and other stories (including Europa’s Survivors) is FREE on Kindle (regular price $2.99). Print copies are $9.99. Receive a 10 percent discount on print copies: enter this 8-digit code: 488RKZ5V on CreateSpace.

My new book, coauthored with Buzz Aldrin, To the Moon and Back: My Apollo 11 Adventure, a pop-up book from National Geographic, is due out in September. The first printing is likely to sell out, so you might want to preorder now from Amazon.

Speaking about Space

Whether you’re looking for a role model for female students, a scientist to run a STEM workshop, or a speaker with some unique stories, please consider an author visit. I offer programs appropriate for school-aged children up through senior citizens, as well as science workshops for students and teachers. See my list of programs and prices on the Author Visits tab of my website. Book a fall visit before July to lock in current fees.

February 12-15, 2018. I’ll be in Atlanta, participating as a member of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the Nation’s Report Card) panel for 4th grade writing.