I’d Like to Paint the Moon For You

“What Does the Moon Smell Like?” and other questions for astronaut Alan Bean

We asked 30 people who we admire to each interview one person they admire. That’s the concept behind the Interview Issue presented by Design Within Reach.

Fossil and Shinola founder Tom Kartsotis chose astronaut Alan Bean

Tom Kartsotis: What’s your secret to being happy?
Alan Bean: There are two secrets. Personally, find a woman that you love and do everything imaginable to make her happy, because if she’s happy, you will be happy, too. Professionally, I think it’s critical that you find what you enjoy doing for free and then see if you can make a living at it. If you can’t, find another dream and try making a living at that.

TK: You were 37 years old when you walked on the moon, flew on Skylab at 41 and then became the acting head of the Astronaut Office. Why did you retire from NASA and start painting while you were still so young when you had the security of having accomplished extraordinary things at an important moment in our history and had plenty to still contribute as an astronaut?
AB: I am a very single-minded person. My original dream was to be a naval aviator and then it ultimately became to go to the moon. When I achieved those dreams, I realized I had another lesser dream inside me that I wasn’t even aware of … to become an artist and create paintings. I was an arty person when I was young but never thought about it much until I achieved my dream of being a naval aviator and of flying. I never really thought about art while I was an astronaut, I only thought about being the best astronaut I could be … I think this speaks to being single-minded. Even right now, I’m single-minded.

When you go through any endeavor, any journey whether across town or to the moon and back, all that matters is that you share the experience with people that you love.

TK: What was it that you brought back from the moon that meant the most to you?
AB: In the end, what I have left from my walk on the Ocean of Storms are memories …almost like it was a trip to the seashore or a drive in the country. They mix together in a constant stream of thoughts and images that come and go like all memories do. The most precious things I brought back with me are the same things I left with. My two best friends. And I realize that when you go through any endeavor, any journey whether across town or to the moon and back, all that matters is that you share the experience with people that you love. That’s what makes life special because ultimately, that’s all there is. That’s really all there is.

TK: What does the moon smell like?
AB: Exposed to oxygen in the Lunar Module, the rocks smelled like fireworks or gunpowder—almost as if they were burning. By the time they had gotten back to Earth they had no smell at all.

Self portrait painted by Alan Bean

TK: If you could only have achieved one of your dreams, going to the moon or becoming an important painter, which dream would you have chosen?
AB: Going to the moon. If I wouldn’t have gone to the moon, I wouldn’t have been enabled to paint. I had to achieve the pinnacle of my first path before I could have even considered doing the second.

TK: What is the one trait that enabled you to achieve your dreams?
AB: It takes at least two things. One, you must be able to have defined a dream. And two, one needs a willingness to work towards it every single day. One of the things that allowed me to have such an amazing life was the fact that I had a dream and I was willing to work hard on that dream every day with a positive attitude. I hold on to my dreams even through the inevitable ups and downs that life delivers… and I am willing to hold on to my dream and work towards it no matter what.

From The Interview Issue

Presented by Design Within Reach