Space qualified ‘moon’ trees thriving in US

February 10th, 2011 - 3:33 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Feb 10 (IANS) Space travellers are living out their lives away from the limelight, after having orbited the moon 34 times on board Apollo 14. These voyagers are not astronauts. They’re ‘moon trees’, redwood, loblolly pine, sycamore, Douglas fir, and sweetgum trees sprouted from seeds that astronaut Stuart Roosa took to the moon and back 40 years ago.

“Hundreds of ‘moon trees’ were distributed as seedlings,” says Dave Williams of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Goddard Space Flight Centre. “But we don’t have systematic records showing where they all went.”

The whereabouts of more than 50 are known. Many, now aging, reside in prime retirement locales like Florida, Arizona and California. A few are in the Washington DC area, according to a NASA statement.

Hundreds more are out there — or at least, they were. And Williams wants to find them before it’s too late.

At least a dozen have died, including the loblolly pine at the White House and a New Orleans pine that was damaged by Hurricane Katrina and later removed.

To capture the vanishing historical record, Williams, a curator at the National Space Science Data Centre, has been tracking down the trees, dead or alive.

His sleuthing started in 1996, prompted by an e-mail from a third-grade teacher, Joan Goble, asking about a tree at the Camp Koch Girl Scout Camp in Cannelton. A simple sign nearby read ‘moon tree’.

“At the time, I had never heard of moon trees,” Williams says. “The sign had a few clues, so I sent a message to the NASA history office and found more bits and pieces on the web. Then I got in touch with Stan Krugman and got more of the story.”

Back then, biologists weren’t sure the seeds would germinate after such a trip. But the seeds did germinate, and the trees seemed to grow normally.

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