Northrop Grumman Names 12th Cygnus Spaceship for Apollo 12 Astronaut

Northrop Grumman has named its NG-12 Cygnus cargo spaceship the S.S. Alan Bean for the late Apollo 12 astronaut, Skylab space station commander and celebrated space artist.
Northrop Grumman has named its NG-12 Cygnus cargo spaceship the S.S. Alan Bean for the late Apollo 12 astronaut, Skylab space station commander and celebrated space artist. (Image credit: Northrop Grumman)

Northrop Grumman is honoring an Apollo 12 moonwalker with the naming of its 12th spacecraft to resupply the International Space Station.

The "S.S. Alan Bean," a Cygnus spacecraft, pays tribute to the late astronaut who became the fourth person to walk on the moon on Nov. 19, 1969. The capsule is scheduled to launch atop a Northrop Grumman Antares rocket from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Nov. 2.

"Fifty years ago, he walked on the moon during Apollo 12. Fifty years later, we honor him on our NG-12 mission," said Frank DeMauro, vice president and general manager of Northrop Grumman's Space Systems Division, in a video statement released online on Thursday (Oct. 24). "Northrop Grumman is proud to celebrate the life of Alan Bean with the naming of our NG-12 Cygnus."

Related: Antares Rocket & Cygnus Spacecraft Explained (Infographic)

A member of NASA's third group of astronauts selected in 1963, Alan Bean flew into space twice, first as the lunar module pilot on the Apollo 12 moon landing mission and then as the commander of the second crewed expedition to the first U.S. space station, Skylab, in July 1973. In total, he logged 69 days, 15 hours and 45 minutes in space, including 31 hours and 31 minutes on the lunar surface.

"Bean's dedication to advancing capabilities that allowed humans to explore space in greater length paved the way for today's International Space Station," said DeMauro.

Following his career as an astronaut, Bean became a celebrated artist, creating an extensive portfolio that captured what it was like for he and his fellow Apollo astronauts to explore the moon. Bean embedded in his paintings small pieces of his moon dust-stained mission patches and textured his canvases using the sole of a replica lunar boot and head of a geology hammer that he used on the moon.

Bean died in May 2018 at the age of 86 after a sudden illness.

"He shared the gift of exploration and inspired future generations to travel back to the moon and beyond," said DeMauro.

Northrop Grumman's 12th Cygnus cargo resupply ship, christened the "S.S. Alan Bean" in honor of the Apollo 12 astronaut, stands ready for mating to a Northrop Grumman Antares rocket at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.  (Image credit: Northrop Grumman)

The tradition of naming spacecraft after astronauts and other individuals who made an impact in the aerospace industry dates back to Northrop Grumman's (then Orbital Sciences') first Cygnus launch in 2014. (Orbital Sciences and ATK merged to become Orbital ATK in 2015, which was then acquired by Northrop Grumman in 2018.)

The most recent Cygnus, which was berthed to the space station from April through August, was named the S.S. Roger Chaffee after the Apollo 1 astronaut who died in a fire on the launchpad in NASA's pursuit of the first moon landing.

"Our NG-11 Cygnus that launched in April of this year is currently in orbit conducting a long-duration, free-flying demonstration mission," said DeMauro. "A unique aspect of [the S.S. Alan Bean] mission is that for the first time, we'll be handling mission operations for two Cygnus spacecraft at the same time."

Other astronauts who served as the namesakes for Cygnus spacecraft included David Low, Gordon Fullerton, Janice Voss, Deke Slayton, Rick Husband, Alan Poindexter, John Glenn, Gene Cernan and John Young. The ninth Cygnus, the last to fly before Northrop Grumman's acquisition of Orbital ATK, was named the S.S. J.R. Thompson after the president and chief operating officer of Orbital Sciences.

The S.S. Alan Bean is the first Cygnus spacecraft to launch under Northrop Grumman's Commercial Resupply Services-2 (CRS) contract with NASA, which provides for at least five more resupply missions delivering an additional 44,000 pounds (20,000 kg) of cargo to the space station.

Click through to collectSPACE to see Northrop Grumman's NG-12 mission patch.

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Robert Z. Pearlman Editor, Contributor

Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.