By Len Wilcox
Have you ever stood under the shade of a Moon Tree? Well, you can, and you don’t have to go to the moon to do it. Thanks to a Colorado boy who grew up to be an astronaut, Moon Trees are growing right here on Earth.
Stuart Roosa, originally from Durango, Colorado, was a smoke jumper with the U.S. Forest Service in the 1950s. He joined the Air Force and became a test pilot, then applied to the NASA Astronaut program. He was selected and began training in 1966, then became one of the astronauts to go to the moon on Apollo 14 in 1971.
The chief of the Forest Service knew Roosa had been a smoke jumper, and asked him to conduct an experiment. He asked Roosa to take some tree seeds into space to expose them to weightlessness and radiation. When he returned they would plant the seeds and study them as they grew. Roosa packed a small canister with about 500 seeds of various North American varieties, including redwoods, pines, Douglas firs, sweetgum and sycamores, and carried them with him on the mission.
Upon their return from space, the seeds were planted. Nearly all of them germinated, in spite of an accident during the decontamination process which nearly ruined the experiment. More than 400 trees grew, and were tended with care at two separate facilities — one in Mississippi, the other in California. The experiment showed no discernible difference between the “Moon Trees” and the control trees which had not left Earth. After the study most of the Moon Trees were given away in 1975 and 1976 to be planted as part of the nation’s bicentennial celebration.
While some of the trees have died, many of them are still doing well and not showing any problems from their trip to the moon. The trees now live on in many cities around the country. The trees were Southern and Western species, so not all states received trees.
For more information on their locations visit the NASA Moon Trees page.