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"Moon Tree" Dedication to Honor Astronauts

by webmaster |

This topic was initially covered here in the January 2000 edition of Smokejumper Magazine in the article Moon Trees by Jim Veitch (Missoula '69)

Stuart A. Roosa, the astronaut and smokejumper who carried tree seeds to the moon and back aboard Apollo 14, will be remembered along with other astronauts with the planting of a 6-foot descendant of his Moon Trees at Arlington National Cemetery Wednesday, February 9 at 11 a.m. The tree is intended to honor all NASA’s deceased astronauts.

When Apollo 14 launched January 31, 1971, Col, Roosa (USAF) carried with him hundreds of loblolly pine, sycamore, sweetgum, redwood and Douglas-fir seeds. The seed project was intended to honor the U.S. Forest Service, for whom Roosa worked summers as a smokejumper, jumping from airplanes to battle forest fires, early in his career.

The February 9 planting will be hosted by the Roosa family. In announcing the event, son Christopher Roosa noted the recent anniversaries of several space program tragedies—the Apollo I fire and the Challenger and Columbia disasters. "We also recently marked the 10th anniversary of my father passing away," he said. "By planting this tree, we want to honor how he and the other astronauts enriched our lives. They were dedicated, professional patriots who lived their lives on the edge of the envelope. They inspire us to reach for the stars in our own way."

Col. Roosa, who served as command module pilot for the mission, passed away in December 1994; he had planned to plant Moon Sycamore descendants during a spring 1995 tree-planting tour with AMERICAN FORESTS' Historic Tree Nursery. Before his death Roosa expressed a hope that the Moon Tree descendants could encourage Americans to dream as big as the moon while planting trees to improve the quality of life on earth.

Roosa's dream of a "Moon Trees" project appeared to be in doubt when Apollo 14 returned to earth and her contents underwent decontamination. In the process the seed packets burst open and it was feared the seeds had died. A Forest Service staff geneticist planted them anyway, and the seeds sprouted. In 1975, a moon seedling, a sycamore, was planted in front of the Forestry Science Building at Mississippi State University.

Hundreds of so-called Moon Trees were planted around the country—many as part of the nation’s Bicentennial in 1976--including at the White House, NASA facilities, state capitols and at Valley Forge. Moon trees were planted in Brazil and Switzerland and another given to the Emperor of Japan. The Arlington Cemetery tree is a descendent of that first sycamore planted at Mississippi State.

In attendance February 9 will be representatives from NASA, the U.S. Forest Service, the military, and students from Cannelton Elementary School in Cannelton, Indiana, where one of the original Moon Trees, a sycamore, is planted at Camp Koch Girl Scout Camp. The tree was "discovered" and adopted in 1996 by Joan Gobel's 3rd grade class.

Although NASA did not keep track of where all the Moon Trees went, it is hoping to track them down now. It has located a few dozen, but there were hundreds planted. Anyone knowing the location of a Moon Tree is asked to contact dwilliam@nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov