Moon Trees: Legacy of Apollo 14 Links Earth and Space
By Leonard David
Senior Space Writer
posted: 07:01 am ET
07 May 2001


WASHINGTON – This is a botanical story with deep roots in space history.

Tucked away on the Apollo 14 mission as it lifted off for the Moon on Jan. 31, 1971 were small containers carried within the personal flight kit of astronaut Stuart Roosa, pilot of the command module, Kitty Hawk.

While Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell made the historic third lunar touchdown in their Antares landing craft, Roosa circuited above the desolate Moonscape by himself for a day-and-a-half.

Roosa’s solitary swings around the Moon made him a member of a unique "lonely hearts club" -- one of just six astronauts (one on each Moon landing mission) who was alone while his two crewmates went to the surface and completely cut off from communications with our home planet in the Apollo command/service module each time it swung around the Moon’s far side as seen from Earth.

Emblem for the Moon Trees.

Astronaut Stuart Roosa toted along seeds on his Apollo 14 lunar voyage.

A Moon Tree grows in woods at Camp Koch Girl Scouts Camp in Cannelton, Indiana.
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Moon Trees

The Apollo threesome returned to Earth on Feb. 9, 1971.

Regrettably, astronaut Roosa passed away in December 1994. But what he packed away on his voyage continues to flourish, as does a spirit that transcended the harsh vacuum, sowing an everlasting link between Earth and the Moon.

"I think the whole idea of bringing tree seeds up into space and then planting them back here on Earth allows us to have a palpable connection of sorts with space and the Apollo program."
     Dave Williams, a curator at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Planting sites

A Moon Tree grows at Goddard Space Flight Center.

Part of Stuart Roosa’s early career was spent as a smokejumper for the U.S. Forest Service, trained to parachute into erupting forest fires.

Given his forestry interest and background, Roosa agreed to pack away on his Moon trek 400 to 500 tree seeds, a project conceived by the astronaut and individuals from the U.S. Forest Service. Seeds were chosen from five different types of trees: loblolly pine, sycamore, sweet gum, redwood, and Douglas fir.

After the seeds were returned to Earth in February 1971, Forest Service geneticists began germinating them. Nearly all the seeds germinated successfully, and in just a few years, forestry experts had some 420 to 450 seedlings – some from cuttings.

Between 1975 and 1976 – as part of America’s bicentennial festivities – many of the seedlings were distributed to a host of state forestry organizations. Seedling planting sites were picked based on where the type of tree species would best take root and grow.

Not only did the White House receive a tree, a loblolly pine, other trees were planted in Brazil, Switzerland, and presented to such notables as the Emperor of Japan.

Known as the "Moon Trees," plantings were made in such spots as Washington Square in Philadelphia, at Valley Forge and at several universities and NASA centers. Second-generation Moon Trees have also been planted from seeds or cuttings from an original Moon Tree.

Life connection

President Gerald Ford, in a bicentennial Moon Tree ceremony, called the trees living symbols 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," Ford said in a telegram to numbers of ceremonies across the country that were dedicating a Moon Tree.

However, the Moon Trees spawn yet another message, said Dave Williams, a curator at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s National Space Science Data Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Williams feels that the Moon Trees make an "unspoken connection between space exploration and life."

"I think the whole idea of bringing tree seeds up into space and then planting them back here on Earth allows us to have a palpable connection of sorts with space and the Apollo program," Williams told

Help wanted

Williams said that there is nothing fundamentally different about the Moon Trees. While they circled the Moon, the seeds were not physically altered in any way by being in the space environs. "But they are still viewed as being set apart from other trees," he said.

There is a kind of kinship, Williams said, between the Moon Trees and those first images taken of Earth by Moon-bound astronauts. "I think the Apollo 8 images of the Earth showing the entire globe from a distance really brought this home to people. It changed our perspective on the Earth as a tiny oasis of life in a pretty barren universe," he said.

Williams is now on a quest to locate all the sites where the Moon Trees have been planted. It appears that no formal list of their locations was ever maintained.

A special Web site has been created to help replant interest and understanding regarding the Moon Trees:

"We like to think of the Moon Trees as a tribute to Roosa and to the Apollo program; as the trees continue to grow, reaching back towards the Moon they once circled," Williams said.

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