posted November 14, 2009 01:52 PM
I thought this would be the place to post a brief write-up of the "Vice Adm. Donald D. Engen Flight Jacket Night: A Conversation with Alan Bean" event last night at NASM.
I had missed the detail that there was a reception beforehand for members of the National Air and Space Society. I'm kicking myself for not already being a member, since the money goes to a good cause and members get perks like this. I'll join up today. Perhaps a cSer who went to the reception can write what that was like.
The lecture was in the IMAX theater, which has featured in just the last couple of years other free appearances by the likes of Bill Anders, the Apollo 8 and 11 crews, and Joe Engle. My wife and I got front-row center seats, which meant we had to crane our necks a bit for the projected photos and videos, but it was neat to sit close enough to see on Bean's flight jacket the gold astronaut pin that he brought to the lunar surface.
Bean was introduced by NASM director General Jack Dailey, who at such appearances always impresses me as quite a knowledgeable fellow who is delighted to have the job he does.
Now, this is not an exhaustive and complete list of the topics Bean talked about, but from my notes:
When he became an astronaut, he decided there were two big pieces of bad news. The technology clearly didn't exist yet to do what they were planning. Visor glass, for example, would shatter when an astronaut on the moon turned from direct sunlight into shadow. And he realized to his shock that few of the planners and engineers seemed to be much smarter than he was, which worried him. (He did single out Buzz Aldrin as one of the smartest astronauts.) But working together the problems were overcome.
He showed the photo of the harness that was supposed to lift 5/6 of his weight to train for walking on the moon, and boasted of receiving the first "space-age wedgie."
He and some of the other astronauts were dismayed to be ordered to do so much geology training, but soon realized that as explorers they had to change their attitude.
It was one of the luckiest parts of his life that he got to work with Pete Conrad, who not only was a fantastic pilot and astronaut but also wanted to help others succeed in their undertakings. Introducing a video of Conrad, Bean said to ask ourselves something like "Isn't this a man you would want to work with?" The video was an interview (1970s?) in which Conrad told about the physical (electrified hypodermic needle in the hand) and psychological testing in the first round of astronaut selection, and how his clearly-unimpressed attitude probably got him rejected then. You've probably heard this one, but a psychologist gave him a blank piece of paper and told him to describe what he saw, and Conrad complained that it had been given to him upside-down. I love that one.
A Chevy dealer realized that the astronauts had their pictures in the paper all the time, and it might be nice if those astronauts were shown happily driving Chevys. So a freebie-leasing deal was struck. "They paid for insurance and everything... that was a good deal, boy."
The Apollo 12 crew, for a year or two, was mindful of the fact that they might be the first to land on the moon if any of the preceding Apollo missions were less than successful. Bean said that his officemate Neil Armstrong told him that he thought he had a 90% chance of returning to Earth alive, but only a 50% chance of having accomplished a lunar landing.
He described the innovations that made the pinpoint landing of Apollo 12 possible.
He talked about ways in which a team can be successful. Once he and Conrad were in the simulator and Bean complained that a member of the support team should be dropped, since he had a long-winded way of explaining things and "just didn't think like us." Conrad apparently came down pretty hard on Bean, saying that it wasn't 400,000 Alan Beans that were working to get Americans to the moon, but people who thought in their own ways. Conrad said that you just had to find a way to respect people on your team, even if they had habits that drove you a little crazy. (He mentioned Jim McDivitt as being particularly good at getting to know all the members of whatever team he was on.)
Bean played a video of the launch, complete with the lightning strike. (During the scene in which the controllers were frantically trying to figure out what had gone wrong, a two-second shot of the baffled Three Stooges was inserted!)
Bean described throwing his silver astronaut pin towards Surveyor, and now being able to look up at the moon and know that the pin is just as bright as the day he landed on the moon.
This was great: he said that he really doesn't wish he had done this, but he and Conrad thought it would be funny to sneak an arrowhead up in one of their pockets. Bean would drop it at his feet, then (acting this out) point the TV camera at a hill or crater, then while panning over to a feature on the opposite side go past his feet. He imagined the quick transmission from Mission Control: "Point the camera at your feet again! What was THAT!?!??" He does wish he'd brought a football, so he painted what a forward pass would have looked like on the lunar surface.
He described his painting process, which includes using models of astronauts in specific poses, and cutting up his lunar-surface-worn patches so he can include a bit of moon dust.
In his conclusion, he said that since he "got home" he has tried not to complain about the weather, or traffic, or annoying people, because he is so happy to get to live on Earth, which he described as the Garden of Eden. He also had inspirational words about how usually the only limits you have in life are ones you put on yourself.
From the Q&A: someone asked if there was a sealant kit in case he tore his suit in a fall. He said no, since the suits had so many layers. BUT just in case there was a tiny hole, he could have turned the oxygen way up and had a few minutes to get back in the spacecraft. Here's a detail I thought was cool: a couple of times, when he stumbled backward and started to fall, he had time to spin around and start running "under my center of gravity" so that he ended up not falling. Try THAT on Earth!
I didn't get called on, but for the record my question was "Did the Apollo 11 crew members give you any tips- words of advice- about things that could only have been observed and learned during an actual mission, and perhaps hadn't been thought of in all the training and simulations?" Anyone know any details about this?