Moon Trees: Living Symbols of Space
The History of the Moon Trees
In the early 1950s, a man named Stuart A. Roosa took a job as a smoke jumper in the United States Forest Service. As part of forest-fire fighting efforts, his job was to parachute into the wildfire, drifting through a thick canopy of branches and leaves and pine needles.
Though Roosa eventually left the job to become an Air Force test pilot, he would often reminisce about the stately trees he'd seen in his Forest Service days. In 1966, when he was asked to become an astronaut in the Apollo moon missions, Roosa decided not to take along the usual souveniers-- instead, recalling his affection for his smoke-jumping days, the man would pack a small metal canister of tree seeds.
Working with Stan Krugman, Forest Service director for forest genetics research at the time, Roosa decided upon a handful of species that would grow well in numerous places in the United States: redwoods, loblolly pines, sycamores, sugargum and others. The seeds, after they'd been packed in the six-inch long, 3 inch wide cylinder, left this world on January 31, 1971 with the Apollo 14 mission.
As Ed Mitchell and Alan Shepard wandered the moon's surface, Roosa spent a day and a half alone with his trees. When all was said and done, the trees orbited the moon a total of 34 times.
After landing safely back on earth, disaster nearly struck. As the canister went through decontamination procedures, it burst, exposing the seeds to a vacuum. Scientists were dismayed, wondering if the seeds would be rendered sterile. However, after sorting out the seeds by species and bringing them to the lab, life was coaxed out of most of them.
For 4 years the seeds were studied as they sprouted saplings, observed for any oddities their trip to space might have spawned in them. None were apparent. As the United State's bicentennial celebration approached, the seedlings were bundled up in preparation to be given to hundreds of sites across the world as gifts and memorials to the space missions.
Planted with special commerative ceremonies, the trees have become memorials, not only to the late Stuart Roosa, but to the space movement as a whole.
Where Are The Moon Trees?
One of the more fascinating aspects of the moon trees is that the locations of all of them are not known. Apparently, no one kept track of where the 400-some seeds that Roosa brought with him went when they arrived back at earth. It is known that trees were presented in many US cities and also to the emperor of Japan.
However, as of late there have been efforts to find and catalogue all the moon trees, lead by Dr. David Williams of NASA. A list of known moon trees in the United States can be found on his website: http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/lunar/moon_tree.html.
Telegram Sent by President Ford to Planting Ceremonies
Upon the distribution of the seeds, President Gerald Ford wrote this telegram that came with every moon tree:
I send warm greetings to those who attend this unique ceremony dedicating a small tree which was taken from earth to the moon on January 31, 1971 aboard Apollo 14. 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.
Planted in this community in our bicentennial year. May this young tree renew our deep-rooted faith in the ideals of our Founding Fathers and may it inspire us to strive for the kind of growth that benefits our own citizens and all mankind.
Gerald R. Ford
http://www.space.com/news/spacehistory/moon_trees_010509.html "Moon Trees"
http://archives.cnn.com/2002/TECH/space/10/22/moon.trees/index.html "Scientists look for elusive 'moon trees.'"
http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/lunar/moon_tree.html "The Moon Trees"