Space Sunday: the Moonwalker and the artist

Astronaut and painter, Alan Bean in his Studio in Texas. Credit: unknown

The pool of men who flew to the Moon, and those who walked on its surface, as a part of NASA’s Apollo programme is sadly shrinking. And on Saturday May 26th, 2018, it became even smaller with the news that Alan Bean, the fourth man to set foot on the Moon had passed away.

His passing was unexpected. Although 86 years of age, he was in good health and was travelling with his family when he suddenly fell ill while in Indiana two weeks ago. He was taken to the Houston Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas, to receive treatment, but passed away whilst at the hospital.

Born on March 15th, 1932 in Wheeler County, Texas, Alan LaVern Bean received a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the University of Texas, Austin in 1955. While at the UT Austin, he accepted a commission as a U.S. Navy Ensign  in the university’s Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps and attended flight training.

Alan Bean in 1969 in a NASA publicity photograph ahead of the Apollo 12 mission. Credit: NASA

Qualifying as a pilot in 1956, he served four years  based in Florida flying attack aircraft. He was then posted to the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School (USNTPS) at Patuxent River, Maryland, where his instructor was the irrepressible Charles “Pete” Conrad. The two stuck up an enduring friendship which was to eventually take them to the Moon.

As a naval test pilot, Bean flew numerous aircraft prior to transferring back to fighter operations in 1962, again serving in Florida for a year. In 1963, he was accepted into NASA as a part of the Group 3 astronaut intake.

He had originally applied as a part of the Group 2 intake in 1962 alongside Conrad, but failed to make the cut. Coincidentally, Conrad’s Group 2 application  – which was successful – was also his second attempt to join NASA. He’d actually been part of the Group 1 intake, but  – always rebellious – he walked away for being subject to what he felt were demeaning and unnecessary medical and psychological tests.

Bean’s flight career at NASA was initially choppy: he was selected as a back-up astronaut with the Gemini programme but did not secure a flight seat. He then initially failed to gain an Apollo primary or back-up flight assignment. Instead he was assigned to the Apollo Applications Programme testing systems and facilities to be used in both lunar missions and training for flights to the Moon. In this capacity he was the first astronaut to use the original Weightless Environment Training Facility (WETF). This is a gigantic pool in which astronauts may perform tasks wearing suits designed to provide neutral buoyancy, simulating the microgravity they will experience during space flight. He became a champion for the use of the facility in astronaut training, which was used through until the 1980s, when is was superseded by the larger Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) used in space station training.

On October 5th, 1967, Apollo 9 back-up Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) pilot Clifton Williams was tragically killed in an air accident. As a result, “Pete” Conrad, the back-up crew commander specifically requested Bean be promoted to the position of his LEM pilot. This placed the two of them, together with Command Module (CM) pilot Richard F. Gordon Jr on course to fly as the prime crew for Apollo 12, the second mission intended to land on the Moon.

Bean and Conrad approached their lunar mission with huge enthusiasm and commitment. In contrast to some of their comrades, who at times found the intense geological training the Apollo astronauts went through a little tiresome, they became extremely engaged in the training – which resulted in them gathering what Harrison Schmitt – the only true geologist to walk on the Moon thus far – later called, “a fantastic suite of lunar samples, a scientific gift that keeps on giving today.”

The Apollo 12 crew (l to r): Charles “Pete” Conrad, Commander; Richard F. Gordon Jr , Command Module pilot; and Alan Bean, Lunar Excursion Module pilot. Credit: NASA

In particular, Bean and Conrad became deeply involved in one of the primary aspects of their mission – a visit to the Surveyor 3 space craft.

The Surveyor programme was a series of seven robotic landers NASA sent to the Moon between June 1966 and January 1968, primarily to demonstrate the feasibility of soft landings on the Moon in advance of Apollo. Scientists were particularly keen that Conrad and Bean land close enough the probe so they could collect elements from it for analysis on Earth to see what exposure to the radiative environment around the Moon had treated them.

However, Bean had his own plans for the trip to the Surveyor vehicle: with Conrad, he conspired to smuggle self-timer for his Hasselblad camera in their equipment. The pair planned to secretly set-up the camera and use the timer to capture a photograph the pair of them standing side-by-side on the Moon – and confuse the mission control team as to how they had managed the feat! Unfortunately, Bean couldn’t locate the timer in their equipment tote bag until it was too late for the picture to be taken. Instead, he later immortalised the scene in his painting The Fabulous Photo We Never Took.

“The Fabulous Photo We Never Took” by Alan Bean. Courtesy of alanbean.com

Apollo 12 launched on schedule from Kennedy Space Centre on November 14th, 1969, during a rainstorm. Thirty-six-and-a-half seconds after lift-off, the vehicle triggered a lightning discharge through itself and down to the Earth through the Saturn’s ionized plume. Protective circuits on the Service Module falsely detected electrical overloads and took all three fuel cells off-line, along with much of the Command/Service Module (CSM) instrumentation.

A second strike then occurred 15.5 seconds later, resulting in further power supply problems, illuminating nearly every warning light on the control panel as it caused a massive instrumentation malfunction. In particular, the “8-ball” attitude indicator was knocked out and the telemetry feed to Mission Control became garbled. However, the vehicle continued to fly correctly, the lightning not having disrupted the Saturn V’s own instrumentation unit.

Left: Apollo 12 is struck by lightning, the discharge passing down the vehicle into its exhaust plume. Right: the launch complex tower is also struck by lightning after the departure of the Saturn V rocket. Credit; NASA

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African Queens, future worlds, murder, adventure and music

Seanchai Library

It’s time to highlight another week of storytelling in Voice by the staff and volunteers at the Seanchai Library. As always, all times SLT, and events are held at the Library’s home at Holly Kai Park, unless otherwise indicated.

Sunday, May 27th 13:30: Tea-Time on the African Queen

As World War I reaches the heart of the African jungle, Charlie Allnutt and Rose Sayer, a dishevelled trader and an English spinster missionary, find themselves thrown together by circumstance.

Fighting time, heat, malaria, and bullets, they make their escape on the rickety steamboat The African Queen…and hatch their own outrageous military plan.

Originally published in 1935, The African Queen is a tale replete with vintage Forester drama – unrelenting suspense, reckless heroism, impromptu military manoeuvres, near-death experiences – and a good old-fashioned love story.

The African Queen at Ceiliúradh Glen

Most famously, perhaps it became a 1951 film directed by John Huston and produced by Sam Spiegel and John Woolf and starring Humphrey Bogart as Charlie Allnut and Katharine Hepburn as Rose Sayer. Unable to provide an English (or more specifically, a Cockney, accent, Bogart’s Charlie Allnut was re-cast as a Canadian, and Bogart went on to win his only Oscar in the role – picking up Best Actor in what he regarded as the best performance of his film career.

Join Corwyn Allen, Kayden OConnell, and Caledonia Skytower at Ceiliúradh Glen, which has been redressed as German East Africa as they present The African Queen, combining both novel and film script.

Monday, May 28th 19:00: The Nitrogen Fix

2000 years from now, the Earth has acid oceans, mutating exploding plants, silent, tentacled observers, doomed Hill cities, nomad Outcasts, vicious, power-mad rebels.

In this world, fully depleted of freely floating oxygen – it has all been trapped in the Nitrogen Fix –, humans are the last native animal species on the planet. What civilization is left is isolated and separated.

A doomsday scenario? perhaps. But Hal Clement has a knack for making this beleaguered, suffering version of Earth and the trials of those living on it far more enticing that might be first thought.

Join Gyro Muggins as he travels to Clement’s world and see what might be found there.

Tuesday, May 29th: The Cold Dish (Walt Longmire #1)

Two years ago, four boys were put on trial for raping a Cheyenne girl. Now one of them – Cody Pritchard – is dead, shot and dumped in with a local farmer’s sheep.

For Walt Longmire, it means his hope of finishing out his term as sheriff of Wyoming’s Absaroka county in peace and quiet is at an end; instead, he finds himself in the middle of a murder investigation.

Plenty of people had cause for wanting Cody Prichard dead but who had the guts to do the deed? And are his three compadres next on the hit list? For Longmire, it means facing one of the more volatile and challenging cases in his twenty-four years as sheriff. One in which he means to ensure that revenge, so often regarded as a dish best served cold, is never served at all.

Join Kayden OConnell as he reads the first volume of Craig Johnson’s tales of Sheriff Walt Longmire.

Wednesday, May 30th 19:00: Hello, Universe

In one day, four lives weave together in unexpected ways.

Virgil Salinas is shy and kind-hearted and feels out-of-place in his loud and boisterous family; Valencia Somerset, who is deaf, is smart, brave, and secretly lonely, and loves everything about nature; Kaori Tanaka is a self-proclaimed psychic, whose little sister Gen is always following her around; and Chet Bullens wishes the weird kids would just act normal so that he can concentrate on basketball.

None of them are friends; at least not until Chet pulls a prank that traps Virgil and his pet guinea pig at the bottom of a well.

This leads Kaori, Gen, and Valencia on an epic quest to find the missing Virgil. Through luck, smarts, bravery, and a little help from the universe, a rescue is performed, a bully is put in his place, and friendship blooms.

Join Caledonia Skytower as she reads Erin Entrada Kelly’s 2018 Newbery Medal Award-Winning tale.

Thursday, May 31st: RUSH 2112

  • 18:30-19:00 music from the album and dancing.
  • 19:00: RUSH 2112 Anthem – the story behind the music.

With Shandon Loring. Also presented in Kitely (hop://grid.kitely.com:8002/Seanchai/144/129/29).

19:00 Seanchai Late Night

Contemporary Sci-Fi with Finn Zeddmore.

 

 


Please check with the Seanchai Library’s blog for updates and for additions or changes to the week’s schedule.

The current charity is Project Children, growing peace in Northern Ireland one (or two) children at a time.