UK scientists search for 'Moon Trees' grown from seeds taken on 1971 NASA Apollo 14 mission


There could be 15 trees throughout the UK grown from seeds that were flown around the moon by NASA on the Apollo 14 mission, and scientists are trying to find them.

The Moon Trees, grown from orbiting seeds flown in 1971, could be anywhere in the UK, including in private gardens, according to the Royal Astronomical Society.

NASA astronaut Stuart Roosa took 500 seeds from Sycamore, Loblolly Pine and other varieties of trees with him as the Apollo 14 capsule orbited the moon.

Most were planted in the US, but it is thought about 15 came to the UK – and now the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) and UK Space Agency are trying to find them. 

The idea that 15 seeds came to the UK came from Gardener’s Question Time presenter Christine Walkden, but so far no other evidence has been found.

NASA astronaut Stuart Roosa took 500 seeds from Sycamore, Loblolly Pine and other varieties of trees with him as the Apollo 14 capsule orbited the moon.

NASA astronaut Stuart Roosa took 500 seeds from Sycamore, Loblolly Pine and other varieties of trees with him as the Apollo 14 capsule orbited the moon. 

View of Bicentennial Moon Tree, located in the Northeast corner of Washington Square, Philadelphia, PA. It was grown from a seed flown to the moon on Apollo 14 in 1971

A photograph of the loblolly pine Moon Tree in front of the Sebastian County, Arkansas, courthouse

Most were planted in the US but it is thought about 15 came to the UK and so the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) and UK Space Agency are trying to find them

APOLLO 14: THE THIRD LUNAR LANDING MISSION FROM NASA 

Apollo 14 was the eighth crewed mission in the Apollo program, and the third to land astronauts on the moon. 

It launched on January 31, 1971 and was in space until February 9, 1971.

They spent two days on the lunar surface including moonwalks.  

It was postponed a year from 1970 while NASA investigated failures with the Apollo 13 mission, as shown in the Tom Hanks movie of the same name.

The crew included:  

Commander Alan Shepard

Commander Module Pilot Stuart Roosa

Lunar Module Pilot Edgar Mitchell 

Shepard and Mitchell landed on the moon on February 5 in the Fra Mauro formation and collected 94lb of rock.

This is also the trip that saw Shepard play golf on the moon, hitting two balls with a makeshift club.

Roosa remained in orbit alone performing science experiments, including taking hundreds of seeds on several orbits of the moon.

They were later planted and led to at least 60 Moon Trees growing on Earth. 

The collection includes redwoods, Douglas firs, sycamores, sweetgums and loblolly pines, but about a third have died since being planted in the 1970s.

The mission was part of Apollo 14 and while astronauts Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell walked on the moon, Stuart Roosa orbited above in the command module with the seeds that sat his personal kit.

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The seeds were sent to space in a bid to investigate whether and to what extent migrogravity affects plants, an experiment regularly repeated since 1971. 

Steve Miller, Vice President of the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), told Gardener’s Question Time that if the trees can be traced, then planting cuttings from them would be a good, delayed way, to mark the RAS bicentenary, celebrated in 2020. 

Professor Miller has followed up various leads over the past month since appearing on the BBC Radio 4 gardening show, but without success. 

Two potential recipients, Kew Gardens and the Jodrell Bank Arboretum, have no records of the seeds that supposedly came to the UK.

He told MailOnline: ‘I have not been able to uncover anything for certain. So we’re a bit hunting in the dark. We are hoping that any publicity we get for our quest will jog a few memories.’ 

The RAS has been promised a cutting from a second-generation Moon Tree, growing in a private garden in the village of Flamstead in the Chiltern Hills.

‘We’re incredibly grateful for that,’ said Professor Miller. ‘But we still want to know if any Apollo 14 seeds did come to the UK and – if so – just what happened to them?’ 

The space seeds were placed in Rossa’s kit, but the canister burst open during the decontamination procedure after the crew returned to earth, leaving many unusable for the experiment.

The mission was part of Apollo 14 and while astronauts Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell walked on the moon, Stuart Roosa orbited above in the command module with the seeds that sat his personal kit

The mission was part of Apollo 14 and while astronauts Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell walked on the moon, Stuart Roosa orbited above in the command module with the seeds that sat his personal kit

NASA put the seeds in the care of the US Forest Service, which watched over them until they sprouted – but some were not planted until years after the mission

NASA put the seeds in the care of the US Forest Service, which watched over them until they sprouted – but some were not planted until years after the mission

‘The resulting seedlings were planted throughout the United States (often as part of the nation’s bicentennial in 1976) and the world. They stand as a tribute to astronaut Roosa and the Apollo program,’ NASA shared in a statement. 

NASA put the seeds in the care of the US Forest Service, which watched over them until they sprouted – but some were not planted until years after the mission. 

In 2015 nearly four and a half pounds of rocket seeds spent six months on the International Space Station orbiting the Earth with British ESA astronaut Tim Peake.  

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When the seeds returned to Earth in 2016, children from schools and groups across the UK took part in an experiment to see if the radiation in space, which is up to 100 times more powerful than on Earth, would affect the seeds’ germination. 

The results showed that, while the rocket seeds grew more slowly and were more sensitive to ageing, they were still viable.

The UK is home to seven apple trees that also went on a mission of a lifetime when they travelled to the ISS with Peake, according to the RAS.

The UK Space Agency, which is supporting the hunt for the Moon Trees, cultivated the Apple Tree seeds from the very tree which inspired Newton to discover gravity.

About 500 seeds of different tree species were launched into space in 1971 that circled around the moon 34 times before returning to Earth where they were then planted in different spots around the globe. Pictured is a sycamore the sprouted from a 'space seed.' It stands at was planted in 1975 at Mississippi State University

About 500 seeds of different tree species were launched into space in 1971 that circled around the moon 34 times before returning to Earth where they were then planted in different spots around the globe. Pictured is a sycamore the sprouted from a ‘space seed.’ It stands at was planted in 1975 at Mississippi State University

Libby Jackson, Human Exploration Manager at the UK Space Agency, said sending seeds to space gives us an insight into the effect of the unique environment.

‘Understanding the effects of space on ungerminated seeds will be vital for future space missions, including when we look to sustain human life beyond Earth.’

Jackson said space has a ‘wonderful way of inspiring people’, as seen by Tim Peake’s trip to the ISS, as well as the space saplings grown from Newton’s apple tree.

A Moon Tree sycamore at NASA’s Goddard facility in Maryland

A Half-Moon Tree stands sentry outside Building 4708 at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight in Huntsville, Alabama

In a telegram to US Bicentennial Moon Tree planting ceremonies, then-President Gerald Ford said: ‘This tree which was carried by Astronauts Stuart Roosa, Alan Shepard, and Edgar Mitchell on their mission to the Moon, is a living symbol of our spectacular human and scientific achievements

‘I’ll be interested in discovering if any of the Moon seeds came to the UK and what has become of them,’ she added.

There are currently over 60 Moon Trees known to be alive on Earth, grown from the seeds of the 1971 Apollo mission, the majority of which are in the US.

Other confirmed locations of the Moon Trees are in Brazil, Italy and Switzerland.

US locations include universities, schools, botanical gardens, state parks, court houses, space centres, and one at the White House – a Loblolly Pine planted in January 1977, six years after the seeds returned to Earth.

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WHAT WAS THE APOLLO PROGRAM?

NASA photo taken on July 16, 1969 shows the huge, 363-foot tall Apollo 11 Spacecraft 107/Lunar Module S/Saturn 506) space vehicle launched from Pad A, Launch Complex 39. Kennedy Space Center (KSC), at 9:32 a.m. (EDT).

NASA photo taken on July 16, 1969 shows the huge, 363-foot tall Apollo 11 Spacecraft 107/Lunar Module S/Saturn 506) space vehicle launched from Pad A, Launch Complex 39. Kennedy Space Center (KSC), at 9:32 a.m. (EDT).

Apollo was the NASA programme that launched in 1961 and got the first man on the moon eight years later.

The first four flights tested the equipment for the Apollo Program and six of the other seven flights managed to land on the moon.

The first manned mission to the moon was Apollo 8 which circled around it on Christmas Eve in 1968 but did not land.

The crew of Apollo 9 spent ten days orbiting Earth and completed the first manned flight of the lunar module – the section of the Apollo rocket that would later land Neil Armstrong on the Moon.  

The Apollo 11 mission was the first one to land on the moon on 20 July 1969.

The capsule landed on the Sea of Tranquillity, carrying mission commander Neil Armstrong and pilot Buzz Aldrin.

Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the lunar surface while Michael Collins remained in orbit around the moon. 

When Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon, he said, ‘That’s one small step for (a) man; one giant leap for mankind.’

Apollo 12 landed later that year on 19 November on the Ocean of Storms, writes NASA.  

Apollo 13 was to be the third mission to land on the moon, but just under 56 hours into flight, an oxygen tank explosion forced the crew to cancel the lunar landing and move into the Aquarius lunar module to return back to Earth.  

Apollo 15 was the ninth manned lunar mission in the Apollo space program, and considered at the time the most successful manned space flight up to that moment because of its long duration and greater emphasis on scientific exploration than had been possible on previous missions. 

The last Apollo moon landing happened in 1972 after a total of 12 astronauts had touched down on the lunar surface.

Astronaut Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin unpacking experiments from the Lunar Module on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission. Photographed by Neil Armstrong, 20 July 1969

Astronaut Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin unpacking experiments from the Lunar Module on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission. Photographed by Neil Armstrong, 20 July 1969



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