The fourth man on the Moon — an experience that lasts forever
On 24 March 2010, Alan Bean, the fourth man to walk on the Moon as part of the Apollo programme, visited the Gasometer in Oberhausen. Apart from the personal encounter (it was my third meeting with an Apollo astronaut, and they have always impressed me), I had the chance to be in the presence of an enthusiastic and motivating witness to an incredible pioneering feat, someone whose lecture revealed far more than a just report of an extraordinary mission.
On 19 November 1969, just a few months after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, Alan Bean stepped onto the surface of the Moon. Apollo 12 was scheduled to follow immediately after Apollo 11, to ensure that in the event of Apollo 11 failing, victory in the race to the Moon was still guaranteed. Alan Bean (now 79) did not go into further detail on this particular aspect of the mission, nor did he allude to the fact that an attempt to transmit live colour TV footage on his mission failed due to careless alignment of the camera, which faced direct sunlight. He did, however, explain some of the familiar as well as some less familiar positive highlights of his mission. For example, the fact that they landed close to Surveyor 3, and his personal impressions, which, if you listened closely, gave very good insight into his thoughts and the messages he was seeking to convey.
That afternoon, Alan Bean had already given a lecture to schoolchildren during which, as he demonstrated in an interaction with Thomas Reiter, he showed the same pictures, but pitched what he had to say quite differently. During his lecture he focused on the journey and on his enthusiasm for the mission, which occupied centre stage in his presentation. However, when he came to give his evening lecture in the Gasometer, his message centred far more on the theme of leadership as fundamental to successful outcomes. Time after time, he returned to the word leadership and I got the distinct impression, shared no doubt with many of the people who heard his lecture there that night, that had formulated his message for me and was directing it at me personally. In his lecture, which was illustrated by photographs and pictures he had painted himself, he kept impressing upon us the high regard in which he held collaboration within a team, as well as the significance of management and personnel management. He exceeded the scheduled length of his lecture by more than 200 percent, but at no time did I cast an anguished glance at the clock (only later did I become aware that time was running out, as I had a train to catch).
The last time that a lecture affected me so profoundly was almost 15 years ago, given by the then President of Stanford University, Gerhard Casper, whose charisma really did touch you personally. What impressed me so much about Alan Bean was the sheer clarity of what he had to say, in which the visions and necessary actions of the people involved and the ‘decision maker’ were all seamlessly interwoven, without ever detracting from the personal responsibilities of each individual. For someone who did not attend the lecture, that may all sound somewhat cryptic or even illogical, but for me, this was altogether a most special experience.
Translated from the original in German.
Further information: DLR web portal report "A piece of the Moon in Oberhausen", DLR press release dated 24 March 2010 (German only).
Further information about Alan Bean: NASA, The Alan Bean Gallery.