Science

Where on Earth are ‘Moon Trees?’ NASA reveals where ‘space seeds’ were planted around the world

About 500 seeds of different tree species were launched into space in 1971 that circled around the moon 34 times before returning to Earth where they were then planted in different spots around the globe.

NASA has shared a map showing the locations of these ‘Moon Trees,’ which total to 83 that mainly reside in the US, with two in South America and one in Europe.

The collection includes redwoods, Douglas firs, sycamores, sweetgums and loblolly pines, but about a third have died since being planted in the 1970s.

The mission was part of Apollo 14 and while astronauts Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell walked on the moon, Stuart Roosa orbited above in the command module with the seeds that sat his personal kit.

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NASA has shared a map showing the locations of these 'Moon Trees,' which total to 83 that mainly reside in the US, with two in South America and one in Europe. Dr. Michele Tobias of the University of California Davis created a detail map of NASA's Moon Trees (pictured)

NASA has shared a map showing the locations of these ‘Moon Trees,’ which total to 83 that mainly reside in the US, with two in South America and one in Europe. Dr. Michele Tobias of the University of California Davis created a detail map of NASA’s Moon Trees (pictured)

This year marks the 50th-anniversary of the Apollo 14 mission, which was the third to land on the moon and first to land in the lunar highlands.

During the mission, the seeds were classified and sorted, and control seeds were kept on Earth to be a comparison. 

The space seeds were placed in Rossa’s kit, but the canister burst open during the decontamination procedure after the crew returned to earth, leaving many unusable for the experiment.

‘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,’ NASA shared in a statement. 

About 500 seeds of different tree species were launched into space in 1971 that circled around the moon 34 times before returning to Earth where they were then planted in different spots around the globe. Pictured is a sycamore the sprouted from a 'space seed.' It stands at was planted in 1975 at Mississippi State University

About 500 seeds of different tree species were launched into space in 1971 that circled around the moon 34 times before returning to Earth where they were then planted in different spots around the globe. Pictured is a sycamore the sprouted from a ‘space seed.’ It stands at was planted in 1975 at Mississippi State University

The mission was part of Apollo 14 and while astronauts Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell walked on the moon, Stuart Roosa orbited above in the command module with the seeds that sat his personal kit

The mission was part of Apollo 14 and while astronauts Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell walked on the moon, Stuart Roosa orbited above in the command module with the seeds that sat his personal kit

Dr. Michele Tobias of the University of  California Davis created a detail map of Moon Trees around the world.

‘A few months ago I learned about Moon Trees watching an episode of Huell Howser on KVIE Public Television and then visited the one on the California State Capitol grounds,’ Tobias said in 2016.

‘I later learned from my aunt that my grandfather was a part of the telemetry crew that retrieved the Apollo 14 mission that carried the seeds that would become the Moon Trees, so there’s something of a connection to this idea.’

NASA put the seeds in the care of the US Forest Service, which watched over them until they sprouted – but some were not planted until years after the mission.

NASA put the seeds in the care of the US Forest Service, which watched over them until they sprouted – but some were not planted until years after the mission

NASA put the seeds in the care of the US Forest Service, which watched over them until they sprouted – but some were not planted until years after the mission

In a telegram to US Bicentennial Moon Tree planting ceremonies, then-President Gerald Ford said: ‘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.’

However, over the years the public forgot about the trees, along with NASA, but former astronaut David Williams made it his personal mission in 1996 to find and catalog them all.

He started off with a list of 22 Moon Trees and had tracked down 80, although of those 21 have died.

Three more have recently been added to the list, bringing the total to 83, but a third are now dead.

However, William said that the fate of many trees likely had nothing to do with their trip to space.

A Moon Tree sycamore at NASA’s Goddard facility in Maryland

A Half-Moon Tree stands sentry outside Building 4708 at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight in Huntsville, Alabama

In a telegram to US Bicentennial Moon Tree planting ceremonies, then-President Gerald Ford said: ‘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

Compared with seeds that never blasted off, ‘there was no detectable difference at all, which is what anyone would have expected,’ Williams told Atlas Obscura.

A Loblolly Pine was planted at the White House, and trees were planted in Brazil, Switzerland, and presented to the Emperor of Japan, among others.

Trees have also been planted in Washington Square in Philadelphia, at Valley Forge, in the International Forest of Friendship, and at various universities and NASA centers

Along with others at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland

The first Moon tree, a sycamore, was planted in 1974 at Camp Iti Kana, a recreational site used by Girl Scouts of Mississippi.

WHAT WAS THE APOLLO PROGRAM?

NASA photo taken on July 16, 1969 shows the huge, 363-foot tall Apollo 11 Spacecraft 107/Lunar Module S/Saturn 506) space vehicle launched from Pad A, Launch Complex 39. Kennedy Space Center (KSC), at 9:32 a.m. (EDT).

NASA photo taken on July 16, 1969 shows the huge, 363-foot tall Apollo 11 Spacecraft 107/Lunar Module S/Saturn 506) space vehicle launched from Pad A, Launch Complex 39. Kennedy Space Center (KSC), at 9:32 a.m. (EDT).

Apollo was the NASA programme that launched in 1961 and got the first man on the moon eight years later.

The first four flights tested the equipment for the Apollo Program and six of the other seven flights managed to land on the moon.

The first manned mission to the moon was Apollo 8 which circled around it on Christmas Eve in 1968 but did not land.

The crew of Apollo 9 spent ten days orbiting Earth and completed the first manned flight of the lunar module – the section of the Apollo rocket that would later land Neil Armstrong on the Moon.  

The Apollo 11 mission was the first one to land on the moon on 20 July 1969.

The capsule landed on the Sea of Tranquillity, carrying mission commander Neil Armstrong and pilot Buzz Aldrin.

Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the lunar surface while Michael Collins remained in orbit around the moon. 

When Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon, he said, ‘That’s one small step for (a) man; one giant leap for mankind.’

Apollo 12 landed later that year on 19 November on the Ocean of Storms, writes NASA.  

Apollo 13 was to be the third mission to land on the moon, but just under 56 hours into flight, an oxygen tank explosion forced the crew to cancel the lunar landing and move into the Aquarius lunar module to return back to Earth.  

Apollo 15 was the ninth manned lunar mission in the Apollo space program, and considered at the time the most successful manned space flight up to that moment because of its long duration and greater emphasis on scientific exploration than had been possible on previous missions. 

The last Apollo moon landing happened in 1972 after a total of 12 astronauts had touched down on the lunar surface.

Astronaut Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin unpacking experiments from the Lunar Module on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission. Photographed by Neil Armstrong, 20 July 1969

Astronaut Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin unpacking experiments from the Lunar Module on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission. Photographed by Neil Armstrong, 20 July 1969


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