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This Week in Space: Moon Trees Remind Us of Our Moon Exploration


the moon in different phases time lapse

According to NASA, Command Module Pilot Stuart Roosa brought a canister of approximately 400-500 loblolly pine, sweetgum, redwood, Douglas fir, and sycamore tree seeds with him while he was on Apollo 14 Command and Service Module Kitty Hawk. Those seeds, when they returned to Earth, were then planted around the United States, and now we can go see these trees all grown up.

So why is that exciting? Because, technically, they went to the Moon. Can’t believe trees went to space before I did. But more than that, it shows the brilliance of those who went to the moon throughout our time in space and the experiments they did and what they wanted to bring with them (and subsequently bring back to Earth, as well).

Acting NASA Chief Historian Brian Odom spoke about the importance of these trees and why the “Moon Trees” are significant to space exploration as a whole.

“The historic voyages of the Apollo program were about bold exploration and incredible scientific discovery. Apollo 14 included the widest range of scientific experiments to that point in the program, but in the case of Roosa’s ‘Moon Trees’, it was what the astronauts took with them on their lunar journey that has left such an indelible mark on the landscape back on Earth.”

The seeds were flown in 1971 to “experiment to determine the effects of deep space on seeds” but also raise awareness for Forest Service and everything that comes along with it. And now we, as citizens, get to reap the benefits! Personally, I think the idea of “Moon Trees” is fun because experimenting on what space can do to tree/plant life is one thing but to be able to bring said “trees” back home for us to plant and see? That’s exciting in the way only nerdy things can give us.

Ed Cliff, chief of the Forest Service, came up with the idea, and because Roosa had been a smokejumper, he approached him with the task. During the mission, the seeds were compromised and they believed them to be dead, and yet, when the Kitty Hawk team returned, the seeds were able to be planted and saplings were sent to schools, universities, parks, and government offices.

Then-President Gerald Ford said this about the “Moon Trees” in a telegram about the tree-planting ceremonies:

“This tree which was carried by Astronauts Stuart Roosa, Alan Shepard, and Edgar Mitchell on their mission to the Moon, is a living symbol of our spectacular human and scientific achievements. It is a fitting tribute to our national space program which has brought out the best of American patriotism, dedication, and determination to succeed.”

Sure, it isn’t the most exciting space activity in the world, but it’s beautiful to see these trees and know how far we’ve come in our space exploration and that we have these “Moon Trees” to look back on.

(via NASA, image: Pexels)

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