Now it faces a real down-to-earth threat: power lines.
Let's look back first.
In 1971, when the tree was nothing more than a seed, it joined Alan Shepard, Edgar Mitchell and Stuart Roosa on Apollo 14 for the nation's third trip to walk on the moon.
"Nobody knew what would happen to plants when exposed to radiation from outer space," said Peterson. The five types of trees were loblolly pine, sycamore, sweetgum, redwood and Douglas fir.
Mitchell and Shepard walked on the moon, but the seeds stayed with Roosa as he orbited in the command module, "Kitty Hawk." The seeds didn't react in any way to the effect of radiation and weightlessness -- they returned to earth and germinated successfully. But their far-flung adventures gave these saplings distinction.
Most of the "moon trees," as they came to be known, were given to different state forestry organizations as part of the 1976 Bicentennial celebrations. A loblolly pine was planted at the White House and another tree was presented to the Emperor of Japan.
One sweetgum tree from the batch failed to flourish, and didn't have a home. In 1978, the sickly sapling was given to Peterson, then deputy chief of the U.S. Forest Service.
With a little care, Peterson's moon tree grew to be about 50 feet tall. It lives on a piece of land east of Hamilton, off business Route 7.
Peterson also grew in stature. He went on to become chief of the Forest Service from 1979-1987. Upon his retirement, he was designated chief emeritus of the Forest Service.
Now that the tree is a robust 28-years-old, it faces another challenge. Peterson has examined Dominion Virginia Power's proposal for building electrical transmission lines out to western Loudoun. He thinks his moon tree is in the way.
Dominion's power lines have sparked controversy all over the county, as property owners and preservationists strive to protect what's left of rural Loudoun. Peterson's tree is one small emblem of that fight -- one that he intends to defend.
"I don't think Dominion knows about the tree," said Peterson. "I think I'll tell them."
While Peterson doesn't own the land that's home to the tree, he wants to try to save it.
"I would certainly want to try to relocate it. But there's not any assurance a tree that tall will survive [the move]."
In case the tree can't be saved, Peterson is trying to propagate the sweetgum from its cuttings.