This weekend, exactly 50 years ago, Apollo 14 left Fra Mauro crater on the lunar surface to begin the three-day journey back to earth with their “Kitty Hawk” space probe.
In addition to 43 kg of lunar rock, the crew brought home something that history had largely lost – “Moon Trees”.
What was Apollo 14?
Apollo 14 – the third manned mission to land on the moon – is best remembered for its commander, Alan Shepard Golf on the moon.
As the first American to step into space a decade earlier, he became the oldest person to step on the moon at the age of 47.
But have you ever heard of Apollo 14’s “moon trees”?
What is a ‘moon tree’?
Stowed in the luggage of command module pilot Stuart Roosa – who circled the moon while Shepard and lunar lander pilot Edgar Mitchell walked on its surface – was a canister contains approximately 500 seeds of loblolly pine, amber, redwood, douglas fir and sycamore maple.
Roosa had worked as a “smoke jumper” – a firefighter who parachutes into remote forest fires to become the first line of defense – and wanted to honor the US Forest Service.
The idea was to see what effect zero gravity would have on the seeds. After making 34 orbits around the moon and returning to Earth, the seeds germinated into about 420 seedlings. In 1975-76 they were distributed to schools, universities, parks, and government offices in the United States.
Then the “moon trees” were lost.
Where are you now?
Where are the ‘moon trees’?
Roosa’s “moon trees” are elusive. In fact, only about 56 living “moon trees” are known to have their locations (and 13 died, including a loblolly pine in the White House).
Is there a “moon tree” near you? The locations are incredibly random – this includes police stations, scout camps, and forest service offices (as well as Brazil, Japan, and Switzerland). Those associated with the U.S. space program include:
- A sycamore maple in Goddard Space Flight Center, Maryland.
- A sycamore maple at the entrance to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
- A loblolly pine on the grounds of NASA Johnson Space Center, Florida.
- Five plane trees and two pines in the US Space and Rocket Center, Alabama.
Many of them carry a plaque –like this one– and many of them have produced “crescent trees”.
What is a ‘crescent tree’?
“Crescent trees” are trees that grow from the seeds of “moon trees”.
There are 24 known “crescent trees” in the United States, including one in Arlington National Cemetery, which was planted in 2005 for the 34th anniversary of the Apollo 14 splashdown.
Another was planted in the National Arboretum in Washington, DC in honor of “Earth Day” and the 40th anniversary of the Apollo program at NASA on April 22, 2009 (pictured above).
“The Apollo program’s historic journeys were about bold explorations and incredible scientific discoveries,” said Brian Odom, NASA’s acting chief historian. “Apollo 14 included the most extensive range of scientific experiments to date in its program.”
“But in the case of Roosa’s ‘moon trees’, what the astronauts took with them on their lunar journey has so indelibly shaped the landscape on earth.”
Wish you had a clear sky and big eyes.
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