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Moon Trees

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    NHNE News List Current Members: 668 Subscribe/unsubscribe/archive info at the bottom of this message. ... Thanks to Chris Christopher. ... IN SEARCH OF MOON
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 15, 2002
      NHNE News List
      Current Members: 668
      Subscribe/unsubscribe/archive info at the bottom of this message.

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      Thanks to Chris Christopher.

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      IN SEARCH OF MOON TREES
      Science@NASA
      August 13, 2002

      http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2002/13aug_moontrees.htm?list40928

      Hundreds of trees have been to the Moon. How they got there and back again
      is a curious tale.

      Listen to this story via streaming audio, a downloadable file, or get help.

      August 13, 2002: Scattered around our planet are hundreds of creatures that
      have been to the Moon and back again. None of them are human. They outnumber
      active astronauts 3:1. And most are missing.

      They're trees. "Moon Trees."

      NASA scientist Dave Williams has found 40 of them and he's looking for more.
      "They were just seeds when they left Earth in 1971 onboard Apollo 14,"
      explains Williams. "Now they're fully grown. They look like ordinary
      trees--but they're special because they've been to the Moon."

      How they got there and back is a curious tale.

      It begins in 1953 when Stuart Roosa parachuted into an Oregon forest fire.
      He had just taken a summer job as a US Forest Service "smoke jumper,"
      parachuting into wildfires in order to put them out. It was probably
      adventure that first attracted Roosa to the job, but he soon grew to love
      the forests, too. "My father had an affinity for the outdoors," recalls Air
      Force Lt. Col. Jack Roosa, Stuart's son. "He often reminisced about the tall
      Ponderosa pine trees from his smoke jumping days."

      Thirteen years later, NASA invited Roosa, who had since become an Air Force
      test pilot, to join the astronaut program. He accepted. Roosa, Ed Mitchell
      and Al Shepard eventually formed the prime crew for Apollo 14, slated for
      launch in 1971.

      "Each Apollo astronaut was allowed to take a small number of personal items
      to the Moon," continued Jack. Their PPKs, or Personal Preference Kits, were
      often filled with trinkets--coins, stamps or mission patches. Al Shepard
      took golf balls. On Gemini 3, John Young brought a corned beef sandwich. "My
      father chose trees," says Jack. "It was his way of paying tribute to the US
      Forest Service."

      The Forest Service was delighted.

      "It was part science, part publicity stunt," laughs Stan Krugman, who was
      the US Forest Service's staff director for forest genetics research in 1971.
      "The scientists wanted to find out what would happen to these seeds if they
      took a ride to the Moon. Would they sprout? Would the trees look normal?" In
      those days biologists had done few experiments in space; this would be one
      of the first. "We also wanted to give them away as part of the Bicentennial
      celebration in 1976."

      Krugman himself selected the varieties: Redwood, Loblolly pine, Sycamore,
      Douglas Fir and Sweetgum. "I picked redwoods because they were well-known,
      and the others because they would grow well in many parts of the United
      States," he explained. "The seeds came from two Forest Service genetics
      institutes. In most cases we knew their parents (a key requirement for any
      post-flight genetic studies)."

      On January 31, 1971, Apollo 14 blasted off. Only Shepard and Mitchell
      actually walked on Moon. On Feb. 5th they landed the lunar module Antares in
      Fra Mauro--a hilly area where Shepard famously launched his golf balls using
      a geology tool as a makeshift driver. Roosa remained in orbit as pilot of
      the mission's command module Kitty Hawk. Inside his PPK was a metal
      cylinder, 6 inches long and 3 inches wide, filled with seeds. Together they
      circled the Moon 34 times.

      Apollo 14 was a success. Scientists were delighted with the mission's
      geology experiments and they were eager to study the 43 kg of Moon rocks
      collected by Shepard and Mitchell. Krugman was just as eager to study the
      seeds.

      "We had a bit of a scare," Krugman recalls. During decontamination
      procedures, the seed canister was exposed to vacuum and it burst. The seeds
      were scattered and traumatized. "We weren't sure if they were still viable,"
      he says. Working by hand, Krugman carefully separated the seeds by species
      and sent them to Forest Service labs in Mississippi and California. Despite
      the accident, nearly all of them germinated. "We had [hundreds of] seedlings
      that had been to the Moon!" Thirty-one years later, Krugman still sounds
      excited.

      During the years that followed, the trees thrived as scientists watched.
      "The trees grew normally," he continued. "They reproduced with Earth trees
      and their offspring, called half-Moon trees, were normal, too." (He notes,
      however, that DNA analysis wasn't routinely done in the early '70's, and so
      the Moon trees weren't tested in that way. There might be subtle differences
      yet to be discovered.)

      Finally, in 1975, they were ready to leave the lab. "That's when things got
      out of hand," he says.

      Everyone wanted a Moon tree. In 1975 and '76, trees were sent to the White
      House, to Independence Square in Philadelphia, to Valley Forge. "One tree
      went to the Emperor of Japan. Senators wanted trees to dedicate buildings.
      We even did some plantings in New Orleans because the mayor there, Mayor
      Moon, wanted some," says Krugman. There were so many requests that "we had
      to produce additional seedlings from rooted cuttings of the original trees."

      No one kept systematic records, notes Dave Williams. That's why the
      whereabouts of the trees today are mostly unknown.

      One of the them went to a Girl Scout camp in Cannelton, Indiana, where 3rd
      grade teacher Joan Goble found it in 1996. (She knew it was a Moon Tree
      because a sign said so. Most Moon trees were planted with ceremony; there's
      usually a sign or plaque nearby that identifies them.) "My students love
      it," she says. "It looks like an ordinary tree, but they feel it's special
      anyway because of its trip to the Moon." Jack Roosa has since become a pen
      pal of Goble's class, encouraging the students to explore and learn as his
      father did.

      When Goble contacted Dave Williams to ask for more information about Moon
      trees, "I was clueless," Williams admits. Like many people who were young in
      the 1970's, Williams had never heard of such trees, but he soon became an
      enthusiast. "I found one Moon tree right here at Goddard near my office," he
      laughs. "I had no idea it was there."

      Often that's how they're encountered--by accident. Williams now maintains a
      web site (http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/lunar/moon_tree.html) listing
      all known Moon trees. If you stumble across one, contact Dave
      <dwilliam@...>. He'll investigate the find and add it to the
      collection if it's authentic.

      Moon trees are long-lived, adds Krugman. The redwoods could last thousands
      of years, and the pines have a life expectancy of centuries. Indeed, they've
      already outlived Stuart Roosa and Al Shepard--two of the humans who took
      them to the Moon.

      Says Jack, "I think my father always knew that these trees would serve as a
      long-lasting, living reminder of mankind's greatest achievement--the manned
      missions to the Moon." Of course, if humans don't return soon, Moon trees
      could become the only living things on our planet that have been to the
      Moon. That's probably not what Stuart had in mind.

      Jack, however, is optimistic: "These trees will be here 100 years from now,"
      he says. "By then I believe we'll be planting Mars trees right beside them."

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