Moon Tree at the Cradle of Forestry
(A FIND Outdoors site)
In 1976, as a tribute to astronaut Stuart Roosa and the Apollo mission, the Cradle of Forestry received and planted a seedling that had traveled to the moon and back. Below you will find more information about this project and the history of FIND Outdoors' very own Moon Trees. This information is provided by Robert Beanblossom, Volunteer Caretaker of the Cradle of Forestry in America.
This tree's journey began in 1971 when Colonel Stuart Roosa, astronaut, and former Forest Service smokejumper, took a special container of tree seeds with him on the Apollo 14 moon mission. This mission ran from January 31st till February 10th. The seeds were put in a specially designed container that held seeds of several different tree species which Colonel Roosa presented to the Secretary of Agriculture Clifford M. Hardin at a brief ceremony on April 28th in Washington, D.C. The Secretary, in turn, gave Roosa and the Society of American Foresters a replica of the medallion that was attached to the container. The tree seeds which made the roundtrip moon flight were then taken to the Houston Space Center where Charles Walkinshaw, Forest Service research scientist, germinated them under controlled conditions. The 500 seeds included three eastern species and two western ones:
In 1976, they began to distribute and plant these seedlings in many places all over the country. Some of these places include Georgia, Arizona, California, New Jersey, Washington, and the Cradle of Forestry in North Carolina.
In the Fall a delegation of 11 German foresters, led by Karl Oedekoven, Minister of Forestry of the Federal Republic of Germany, toured the eastern part of the United States. Their visit came about in response to an invitation from John R. McGuire, chief of the U.S. Forest Service. Included in the itinerary for this trip were the Biltmore Estate and FIND Outdoors. There, Robert Cermack, forest supervisor of the National Forests in North Carolina, arranged for Forestry Minister Oedekoven to plant a "Moon Tree", a sycamore seedling grown from a seed that circled the moon during the Apollo 14 mission.
Following the planting ceremony, Oedekoven spoke briefly in praise of the work of Dr. Carl Schenck, a pioneer in German forestry who came to the United States in 1895. Schenck made "many contributions to American forestry and assisted in the development of a fledgling profession." Oedekoven noted that Schenck began his forestry work in this country at the Biltmore Estate. In concluding his remarks, the Forestry Minister expressed the hope that ties between American and German foresters could be strengthened. He emphasized that the German foresters would take steps to formalize and improve upon the existing relationships with American foresters.
Photo by Jeff Graham, FIND Outdoors.
Many years later, in 2017, an offspring of one of the Moon Trees were planted in PARI, a former NASA site, which is near a FIND site. Below you will read about the story of how this second generation Moon Tree came to be.
To commemorate the solar eclipse, Rosemary Roosa, daughter of Apollo 14 astronaut Stuart Roosa, planted a tree at the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI) in Rosman on August 24th. Rosemary was 7 years old when her father joined astronauts Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell on Apollo 14, the United States' 3rd landing on the moon. "He flew to the moon on Jan. 31 and splashed down on February 10, 1971," Roosa said.
Roosa said she remembered the Saturn 5 rocket standing "majestically" on the launchpad, and the ground shaking beneath her feet as the engine prepared to launch. "The rocket was so heavy," Roosa said. "It stayed on the launch pad for a few moments before slowly ascending upward."
Stuart Roosa named his command module "Kitty Hawk," in honor of Orville and Wilbur Wright's first flight experiment in Kitty Hawk, N.C. "Just as the Wright Brothers started with their first flight here in North Carolina, my father felt that at some point space travel should become commonplace," Roosa said. Inside Kitty Hawk, which orbited the moon for three days as Mitchell and Shepard conducted experiments on the moon's surface, was a canister of tree seeds. "It all started when my father took a summer job at the U.S. Forest Service in Oregon," Roosa said. "He was a smokejumper, parachuting into remote areas of the national forest, carrying on his back things he would need to contain the fire." She said her father eventually decided to pilot planes instead of jumping out of them, so he joined the Air Force, becoming a top fighter pilot at Langley Air Force Base, where he met her mother, Joan Barrett, who was teaching at the base. "My mother was from Mississippi and she actually went to grade school with Elvis Presley, so I never know who was more famous: my dad going to the moon or my mom knowing Elvis," Roosa said.
From Langley, Stuart went to Edwards Air Force Base, where United States Air Force General Officer Chuck Yeager, the first test pilot to have exceeded the speed of sound, was stationed at the time. Impressed with Stuart's pilot skills, Alan Shepard asked her father to pilot Apollo 14.
When hearing of his selection, the U.S. Forest Service asked Stuart to take a variety of tree seeds, including sycamore seeds. "Every Apollo astronaut was allowed to take a few personal items in the Saturn 5 rocket, and these items were stored in the Pilot Preference Kit (PPK), so my father took these seeds," Roosa said. During those days, Roosa said, it wasn't known how space travel would affect astronauts, much less the seeds. "NASA wasn't sure if the astronaunts would contract some weird space disease and wipe out civilization, so they literally incinerated the air they breathed when they came back," Roosa said, holding the sycamore tree upright. "And they weren't sure if the trees would grow normal, or in some strange way, so they sent the seeds upon return to an experimental station in Mississippi and one in California, but as you can see today, they grow quite normal."
When her father returned to Earth, Roosa said an exciting time followed. "Richard Nixon was the president, and we were invited to the White House, and Vice President Spiro Agnew gave me a golf ball with the presidential seal on it," she said. Her father then gave a speech at the United States Congress and even appeared on the Johnny Carson Show. "It seems, though, in the post-flight appearances and publicity, that the story of the tree seeds became a mystery," Roosa said. Then, in 1976, Stuart retired from the Air Force and NASA. "That was the year of America's bicentennial, and the moon seeds were planted across the United States in honor of America's 200 years," Roosa said. "My father planted some in person, and others were sent to almost every state in the U.S.," Roosa said. Stuart Roosa died on Dec. 12, 1994, at 61.
In 2011, the 40th anniversary of Apollo 14 was celebrated. "There was a resurgence and interest in the history of the moon trees, and I started the Moon Tree Foundation to carry on these second-generation moon trees, one of which I am planting here at PARI today," Roosa said. Little did she know, PARI was once a tracking station where Rosman local Joe Collins worked during the Apollo era. Roosa, a Mississippi native, said she had not heard of PARI until some friends told her about it at a Christmas party. Upon arrival at PARI, she got to meet Collins, who was asked by PARI President Don Cline to help plant the sycamore Moon Tree. "Joe Collins, who is here today, was with NASA and tracked the Apollo 14 splash-down in the Atlantic Ocean and helped to call the families," Roosa said. "We were able to watch it on my RCA color TV and shortly thereafter we received the phone call, thanks to Mr. Collins here." Neither Collins nor Roosa knew they would be meeting each other, or had an idea of their connection until they began talking that day.
"Today, we are going to dedicate this tree in the name of science, nature and again for it to be a living legacy that will hopefully inspire children and the space program," Roosa said. Her father planted the original moon tree at Mississippi State University in Starksville, Miss., and she said this is a second-generation tree of that first tree. "Little did we know the legacy that my father Stuart Roosa, had started 40 years ago," Roosa said. "Let us continue this legacy of the moon trees in honor of exploration, science, unity, and peace for all man-kind."
For more information about the Moon Trees, including all the different places you can find one, follow this link.