Moon Trees Commemorate Apollo 14 Space Flight

indiana moon

Image from Moon Trees

With a name like TreeHugger, how can we not write about moon trees? Don't run for the plant dictionary yet because they won't be in it. Moon trees is the name given to the trees grown from seeds that were taken to the moon on the Apollo 14 mission in 1971.

Astronaut Stuart Roosa had worked for the U.S. Forest Service and was passionately interested in trees. Each astronaut was allowed to take something personal, so he took 500 tree seeds. If Alan Shepard could play golf on the moon, what's a few hundred seeds by comparison? Roosa wanted to see what would happen to them in a zero-gravity environment.

roosa astronaut photo

Image from science@nasa

He took 5 species of tree seeds with him: the Loblolly Pine, Sycamore, Sweetgum, Redwood, and Douglas Fir. He wanted to figure out how to "bridge the gap between space science and environmental science." The seeds circled the moon 34 times. Scientists were curious as to whether the seeds would germinate and the resultant trees would look normal.

The seeds were classified and sorted, and control seeds were kept on earth for later comparison. Unfortunately, upon return to earth, the seed cannisters burst open during the decontamination process and they were exposed to the vacuum.

Everyone was convinced that the experiment was ruined and that the seeds wouldn't germinate. However most of the seeds did. In 1976 the maturing trees left the laboratory conditions and were distributed to many parks and universities, in honour of the U.S. bicentennial. Now there are hundreds of these trees planted across the United States.

california moon tree photo

Image of California Moon Tree

But where are these moon trees? David Williams, a NASA scientist, has become determined to document where they are all planted. So far he has found 40 of them and he's looking for more. One has been planted at Arlington National Cemetery near Roosa's grave. "They were just seeds when they left earth in 1971 on board Apollo 14," explains Williams. "Now they're fully grown. They look like ordinary trees--but they're special because they've been to the Moon." : The Globe& Mail

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