On a clear night and with the right telescope, if you know just where to look,
you will find the cup-shaped crater called Draper. It’s pocked into a
vast plain of volcanic moon rock that humans once believed, from afar, was
a lunar ocean. The mile-deep Draper aperture was named for physicist and
astrophotography pioneer Henry Draper, the man credited with taking
the first photograph of the moon through a telescope in the mid-1800s.
Those first photographs were as stunning as they were anticlimactic. For a
celestial body that was thought to host bizarre extraterrestrial life, it
looked, from afar, like something rather ordinary. “In truth, a common
photograph of the moon does bear a striking resemblance to a peeled orange,”
wrote The County newspaper of Missouri in 1881. And yet moon
photography was instantly popular—and people began collecting the images the
way they sought out photos of popular actresses, newspapers reported.
“When I left NASA, I made up my mind I was not going to be an astronaut who painted, but an artist who used to be an astronaut,” he said. “It takes a while to change the heart.”
Alan Bean has been painting for years, so there’s no real news hook here, other than the upcoming anniversary of Apollo 11. I remember being deeply frightened as a kid by a cover of Boy’s Life that he painted. Something about the astronaut alone on the moon surrounded by the nothingness of space was very disturbing to me.
The best account of the weirdness of Alan Bean’s personality is in the book Moon Dust. In that book, the author drives around the country and interviews the remaining Apollo astronauts while pondering the meaning of lunar program. It doesn’t really make any sense to spend billions of dollars to put a tin can with two men in it on the moon does it? To me, the Apollo program is the American equivalent of the Great Pyramids or the Colosseum or Notre Dame: L'art pour l'art, or la nationalisme as the case may be. The genius of the American people is the soil of the moon itself.