Sunday, February 22, 2004
In Search of Moon Trees
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.'"

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