Astronaut's Memories Live on in Art

A presidential commission is expected to report this week that without a significant increase in funding, NASA will not be able to make a return trip to the moon - the first step on the way to a possible mission to Mars - before 2020 .

It may be easy for many Americans to forget just how inspiring space travel can be. After Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to land on the moon 40 years ago this summer, just 10 other astronauts followed in their footsteps through the last U.S. moon mission in 1972.

But one of those men has spent his years since retiring from space exploration as an artist, sharing a spectacular vision of what he and very few others saw, as CBS News correspondent Jeff Glor and producer Phil Hirschkorn report.

Alan Bean was the fourth man to step on the moon 40 years ago - and he still goes back every day, painting where he once walked.

"These tell a story about a great moment in human history," Bean said. "These are the first paintings of some place besides this earth by somebody that's ever been there."

In November 1969, Bean was the lunar module pilot for Apollo 12, the second manned mission to the moon. He spent eight hours there, nearly every minute filled with scientific experiments.

"I can remember looking out at the earth when it looked just like this and thinking, wow, that's so beautiful. Gosh, it's 240,000 miles away," Bean said, showing one of his paintings. "It was more science fiction to us, I think, than it was to the average public. We knew how difficult it was. We knew how many things had to go right."

A retrospective of bean's art is now showing at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington - images of an awesome but arid surface.

"This is like going halfway across the Sahara Desert and stopping your car, which is running great, and getting out and camping out for a couple days and hoping when you start it up the battery works," Bean recalled. "Cause if it doesn't, you're up a creek."

So - Bean and Apollo 12 Commander Pete Conrad tossing a football? That never happened, even though Bean has painted the scene. Nor did a planned photo-op of the two with their hands clasped in the air over their heads.

"An artist's job is not necessarily to recreate reality. An artist's job is to make reality like we wish it were." Bean said.

Bean works with acrylic paint on wood -- marking it with tools of the astronaut's trade.

He shows the hammer he used on the moon.

From a hammer bearing the scratches of moon rocks, to a moon boot, leaving footprints, literally on his portraits.

Bean works methodically, completing only 162 paintings in 28 years. But at 77, he hopes to make 40 more.

"I've got a list over there of the stories I've heard over the years," he said. "It's longer than I can ever do in my lifetime. But I've got 'em prioritized and whenever I finish one, then I do the next one, and I'll keep doing that as long as I can, so I'll end up telling the best stories that I know."

Bean later spent 59 days in space on Skylab, the first U.S. space station. The Smithsonian exhibit of his paintings will be on view through the end of the year.
  • Jeff Glor

    Jeff Glor was named anchor of the Sunday edition of the "CBS Evening News" in January 2012 and Special Correspondent for "CBS This Morning" in November 2011.

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