Apollo 14 launched in the late afternoon of January 31, 1971 on what was to be our third trip to the lunar surface. Five days later Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell walked on the Moon while Stuart Roosa, a former U.S. Forest Service smoke jumper, orbited above in the command module. Packed in small containers in Roosa’s personal kit were hundreds of tree seeds, part of a joint NASA/USFS project. Upon return to Earth, the seeds were germinated by the Forest Service. Known as the “Moon Trees”, the resulting seedlings were planted throughout the United States (often as part of the nation’s bicentennial in 1976) and the world. They stand as a tribute to astronaut Roosa and the Apollo program.
The project began after Roosa was chosen for the Apollo 14 mission. Ed Cliff, Chief of the Forest Service, knew of Stuart Roosa from his days as a smoke jumper and contacted him about bringing seeds into space. Stan Krugman of the Forest Service was put in charge of the project and selected the seeds for the experiment. Seeds were chosen from five different types of trees: Loblolly Pine, Sycamore, Sweetgum, Redwood, and Douglas Fir. The seeds were classified and sorted, and control seeds were kept on Earth for later comparison. Roosa carried about 400 – 500 seeds in his personal kit which stayed with him as he orbited the Moon in the command module “Kitty Hawk” in February, 1971. Unfortunately, the seed canisters burst open during the decontamination procedures after their return to Earth, and the seeds got mixed together and were presumed to be no longer viable.
Stan Krugman had the seeds sent to the southern Forest Service station in Gulfport, Mississippi and to the western station in Placerville, California to attempt germination. Surprisingly, nearly all the seeds germinated successfully, and the Forest Service had some 420 to 450 seedlings after a few years (some from cuttings). Some of these were planted with their earth-bound counterparts as controls, (as would be expected, after over twenty years there is no discernible difference) but most were given away in 1975 and 1976 to many state forestry organizations to be planted as part of the nation’s bicentennial celebration.
The “Moon Tree”
Tucked away on the Apollo 14 mission as it lifted off for the Moon on January 31, 1971, were small containers carried within the personal flight kit of astronaut, Stuart Roosa. Within his flight kit were different types of tree seeds. Upon return to Earth, the seeds were germinated by the Forest Service. Known as the “Moon Trees,” the resulting seedlings were planted throughout the United States and the world. Through the efforts of Don Berryhill, Okefenokee RESA science consultant, 1970-1996, Waycross became the home for a Loblolly (pinus taeda) seedling that is now known as the “Moon Tree”.
INFORMATION FROM OUR REDEDICATION CEREMONY:
In recognition of the 50th year anniversary of Apollo 11’s first moon landing we had a Rededication Ceremony for our Moon Tree at OK RESA on Monday, May 20th at 1:00 PM. One of our guest speakers was the President of the Moon Tree Foundation, Ms. Rosemary Roosa, daughter of Stuart Roosa. Her father, Colonel Stuart Roosa, was the Apollo 14 astronaut and former smokejumper who took various tree seeds with him on his lunar mission. Scientists were curious if the seeds, after their journey through the microgravity of space, would sprout and look the same as Earth-grown trees. Upon Roosa’s return they were germinated and planted throughout the world, mostly during the Bicentennial of the United States. (Hence, the nickname, Moon Tree.) According to the NASA website, our Moon Tree is the only first generation Moon Tree planted in Georgia. (Since our ceremony, a second Moon Tree was located in Athens, GA.)
Click on this link to view all of the remaining documented first generation Moon Trees https://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/lunar/moon_tree.html
The mission of the Moon Tree Foundation, a 501(c) (3) non-profit, is to educate the public about our space program and the United States Forest Service; to inspire the globe’s population with the living legacy of Moon Trees; and to honor her father astronaut Roosa. The Moon Tree Foundation envisions planting second generation Moon Trees in every country in the world. You can visit their website at Moontreefoundation.org for more information.