HOUSTON -- Astronaut Alan Bean, the fourth man to walk on the moon and in recent months director of the space agency's astronaut candidate office, said Wednesday he is resigning June 26 to pursue a career as an artist.
Bean, 49, who started painting as a Navy pilot trainee and for 20 years has worked on earthly subjects, said he plans to concentrate on the moon because 'I was there and I had never seen a painting of it, really.'
'I've loved the job at NASA,' Bean said. 'I plan to bring the same devotion to (painting) as flying planes and space ships.
'I want to make a contribution to the field of art. I've saved my money and plan to spend whatever time it takes to do it just right.'
Bean, who receives a Navy captain's retirement pension, said he realized some observers might think his decision offbeat.
'To the passerby, it has an interesting ring to it like someone is dropping out,' Bean said. 'It's just the opposite. I'm working as hard at this as I have anything else. I'm a person who believes in going for your dreams.'
Bean is aiming for a personal show in a gallery, possibly in Houston. So far he has produced 'about 10 (canvasses) I'm fairly satisfied with and five that I'm very satisfied with.' He needs more and is working hard to produce them.
Bean, who is divorced and has two grown children, confessed to some apprehension about the change.
'It isn't as risky (as spaceflight) in terms of life-threatening,' he said. 'But as far as your ego's concerned, if you've been very successful in one particular sphere of your life, it is something to change that.
'When it's completely different, it can be tough. But you can't reach the other shore without jumping in the water. I'm getting in there, but I've been practicing my strokes.'
Johnson Space Center spokesman John Lawrence said Bean is the eleventh of 12 astronauts who went to the moon to leave the space program. John Young is the only moon flight veteran remaining in the program.
Bean was among the third group of astronauts selected by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in the fall of 1963.
He was lunar module pilot on Apollo 12 in November 1969. From July to September 1973, he was commander of the second Skylab mission. Then he was backup spacecraft commander for the Soviet-American Apollo-Soyuz flight.
Bean's total time in space was 1,671 hours, 45 minutes, which ranked him first among active astronauts. He ranked fourth on the all-time space endurance list.
Lawrence said Bean is ineligible for a NASA pension because, until two years ago when he retired, he was on the Navy payroll.
Lawrence said Young, director of the astronaut office on leave to fly the space shuttle, will take over Bean's duties as director of astronaut candidate operations.