Space Exploration

Space Exploration

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 58. Alan Bean.

Alan Bean

"Drilling for Knowledge," 1988.

Lot Closed

July 27, 02:58 PM GMT


20,000 - 30,000 USD

Lot Details


Alan Bean

Drilling For Knowledge, 1988.

Acrylic over modeling medium on Masonite, 21 x 16 in. 23.5 x 29.5 in. framed, signed "Alan Bean / © 1988" lower right, modeling medium texturized with moonboot replica and Bean's FLOWN geology hammer. with tiny FLOWN bits of the Apollo 12 spacecraft (heatshield and gold Kapton foil) mixed into the medium. Three labels affixed to frame verso with information and care instructions from the artist.

ILLUSTRATED:  Bean, Alan. Apollo. An Eyewitness Account by Astronaut/Explorer Artist/Moonwalker Alan Bean, pp 142.


When Alan LaVern Bean (1932-2018) passed away in 2018 at the age of 86, he was remembered primarily for his part in the Apollo 12 mission, when he became the fourth person to set foot on the moon, just four months after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first moonwalkers. However, when the astronaut left NASA in 1981 he undertook a major life change and began to pursue painting full time (to the surprise of his astronaut peers). He would later go on to say “I think of myself not as an astronaut who paints, but as an artist who was once an astronaut.”

Bean's unique artistic process is a direct reflection of his dual identity as an artist and an astronaut. He would prepare his canvas by covering a piece of aircraft plywood or Masonite with a thick acrylic modeling medium, then texturize the surface of his canvas using a replica of the soles of his lunar boots, and the actual FLOWN metal geology hammer that accompanied him to the lunar surface on Apollo 12 ("these tools, which once helped me explore the moon, are now putting the moon's stamp on my paintings.") Bean incorporates two additional elements into the modeling medium: FLOWN pieces of heat shield and gold Kapton foil from the Apollo 12 spacecraft. In later paintings, Bean also included small pieces of one of Bean's flown emblems embedded with traces of moondust.

"Drilling for Knowledge" depicts Apollo 15 astronaut David Scott using his lunar surface drill to attempt to drill two holes, each ten feet deep, to be used in an experiment measuring the rate of heat flow from the interior of the Moon. Measuring this heat flow would help scientists understand why we see evidence of volcanos on the Moon despite no signs of volcanic activity.

On a note adhered to the back of the painting, Bean recounts that Scott had difficulty drilling beyond three feet into the lunar surface. Despite not drilling as deeply as planned due to the compact lunar material on the surface, Scott was able to make holes deep enough to allow him to partially insert the temperature sensors. Results from Scott's experiment on the Moon indicated that the heat generated in the Moon's interior is about one-fourth that produced by Earth. This finding was consistent with scientists' observations that there had been abundant volcanic activity while the Moon was young but cooled to the point where there was no longer sufficient heat for volcanic eruptions.

Bean considered his paintings of space exploration to be artistic records of our humanity and heritage. Bean's portrait of Scott conducting geological experiments on the lunar surface is all the more striking when one considers the artwork was created not only with paint but with Bean's FLOWN geology hammer, with which he also conducted experiments on the Moon in an earlier Apollo mission.