WHEELER, Texas — Only 12 people in history have walked where Capt. Alan Bean walked. Only a handful were selected for the third wave of NASA astronauts in 1963.

The Amarillo Globe-News (http://bit.ly/2cIcieU ) reports that Bean, 84, could have regaled the 450 Wheeler students, kindergarten through high school seniors, plus others in the community on Wednesday on space exploration or what it was like to be the fourth man to ever step foot on the moon.

And he did. But when Bean returned to the place of his birth, he wanted to make sure that wasn’t the only thing he left with students. In a slide presentation in the high school gymnasium that accompanied his 45-minute speech, he emphasized the most important lesson he learned at NASA.

It wasn’t piloting a lunar module.

“Before, I didn’t know how to be a good teammate,” he said. “I was telling (fellow Apollo 12 astronaut) Pete Conrad in the simulator one day about someone who wasn’t a good teammate, and he said, ‘Well, maybe it’s you.'”

Bean said he felt insulted. Conrad asked him what he thought went into being a good teammate. Bean threw out answers like staying focused and being loyal to leadership.

Wrong, Conrad told him.

“He said, ‘You got to find a way to admire and care for the people you work with, the people you are around,'” Bean said. “I said, ‘You’re kidding.’

“It took me a while to learn that, but it’s the truth. You need to get to know people better and care about the people you surround yourself with to be a good teammate. That’s the No. 1 thing I learned in my 18 years with NASA.”

Bean returned to his birthplace for the unveiling of an 8½-foot, 1,300-pound statue — “Tiptoeing on the Oceans of Storms” — that was sculpted by Amarillo’s Mickey Wells. The statue stands in front of the 2-year-old Wheeler Historical Museum, just north of the football field.

Bean was born in Wheeler in March 1932 at the hospital on the edge of Main Street, which is now the Sandy Basin Inn. Arnold, his father, worked for the state of Texas and the Department of Agriculture, where he studied flood control and soil variances.

Bean lived only two years in Wheeler before his family moved to Louisiana. He went to high school in Fort Worth and eventually graduated from the University of Texas. Bean, who is now a painter, retired in Houston. On occasion, he returns to his roots.

Since the last person to walk on the moon was 46 years ago, odds are the next — if there is a next — wasn’t in the Wheeler gymnasium. But Bean spoke of personal dreams, discarding limits, seeking to be special, qualities not unique to space exploration.

“Again, it was Pete who told me if I wanted to be special, what have I done special today?” Bean said. “How, he asked, was I going to be special someday? I said, ‘Well, maybe someday I’ll be standing by a lake and a guy can’t swim and I’ll save him; I don’t know.’

“If you want to be special, he said, you got to figure out ways to be special each day. It’s not up to the world to give you special opportunities; you have to find ways.”

As Bean showed his last slide — the Earth, moon and stars in the galaxy — he noted the difference between planets, stars and those with him in the gym.

“The Earth, we know where it will be 10 years from now; these stars, we know where they will be 10,000 years from now,” he said. “The only thing in the universe we have no idea where it will be next year are human beings.

“We are not limited. We are the only things in the universe that the only limits placed on us are the limits we place on ourselves.”

Bean was part of the three-man crew on Apollo 12, the second manned mission to the moon in November 1969. He was also the space commander of Skylab 3 in 1973.

Following the program, a few hundred, mostly elementary students and adults, walked to the museum for a countdown of the statue’s unveiling.

For Wells, who modeled the statue from artist Paul Kashuk Jr., finishing the project was a relief.

“It was a long project, an intense project,” Wells said. “I’m blessed to be part of it. And Alan is an angel from heaven.”

For Bean, the statue depicting him on the moon, is one of a kind.

“I’ve seen all the statues, I think, of astronauts, and I have to say, this is the best one I’ve seen,” Bean said. “It’s wonderful. It’s so authentic. Nobody got this much detail just right. I’m telling you, this is different. This is amazing.”

Probably none more so than the man it depicts.


Information from: Amarillo Globe-News, http://www.amarillo.com

This is an AP Member Exchange shared by the Amarillo Globe-News