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‘Moon tree’ takes root at Rainier View Elementary

Fifth-graders Jasmine Scott, Tasha Smith and Talea Culp watch as fifth grade teacher Matt McGee pots the “Moon Tree,” which came from an experiment run during Apollo 14 in 1971. - Kyra Low/The Mirror
Fifth-graders Jasmine Scott, Tasha Smith and Talea Culp watch as fifth grade teacher Matt McGee pots the “Moon Tree,” which came from an experiment run during Apollo 14 in 1971.
— image credit: Kyra Low/The Mirror

The fifth-grade class at Rainier View Elementary got a close encounter with outer space this week.

As part of their fifth-grade graduation on Tuesday, the students were able to help plant a moon tree, or most likely a second generation moon tree.

Moon trees come from an experiment run during Apollo 14 in 1971. This trip was the third trip to the lunar surface. One of the astronauts, Stuart Roosa, orbited above the moon on the command module. Packed in small containers in Roosa's kit were hundreds of tree seeds, part of a joint project between NASA and the United States Forest Service. Roosa had been a smoke jumper for the fire service. Upon return to Earth, the seeds were germinated by the Forest Service and were known as Moon Trees. The seedlings were planted throughout the U.S., many as part of the 1976 bicentennial.

Seeds were chosen from five different types of trees: Loblolly Pine, Sycamore, Sweetgum, Redwood and Douglas Fir. The seeds were classified and sorted and control seeds were kept on Earth for later comparisons. Roosa had about 400-500 seeds with him in space. During decontamination, though, the seed canisters burst and seeds were considered no longer viable.

However, Stan Krugman had the seeds sent to the southern Forest Service station in Gulfport, Miss., and in Placerville, Calif., to attempt germination. Nearly all the seeds germinated successfully and the Forest Service had between 420 and 450 seedlings after a few years, although some were from cuttings.

Trees were planted all over including a Loblolly Pine planted at the White House, and trees were planted in Brazil, Switzerland, and presented to the Emperor of Japan, among others. Trees have also been planted in Washington Square in Philadelphia, at Valley Forge, in the International Forest of Friendship, and at various universities and NASA centers.

The second generation trees are made from seeds or cuttings from an original "Moon Tree."

For more information or to see a list of moon tree planting locations, visit www.nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/lunar/moon_tree.html.

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