Don’t you hate it when you lose something important? Or to be more specific, hundreds of things over 40 years and then you forget they ever existed after you sent them into space? Well, that’s what NASA did and why they’re trying try to track down trees grown from seeds that traveled into space back in the early 70’s and were then scattered across the country.
The seeds were launched in to space in January 1971 as part of the payload of Apollo 14. Stuart Roosa, who piloted the command module, was a former U.S. Forest Service smoke jumper and brought 400 to 500 seeds from five different kinds of trees: Sycamore, Sweetgum, Redwood, Douglas Fir and Loblolly Pine. Unfortunately, the seeds got mixed together during decontamination and NASA figured they were no longer viable. Afterwards, they were given to the Forest Service, who dispersed them across the country without writing down where they went to. Most were given out for bicentennial plantings in 1975 and 1976.
NASA had completely forgotten about the trees until 1996, when an Indiana third grade class wrote NASA about a tree at a local Girl Scout camp which had a sign saying that it was a “moon tree.” NASA initially said they’d never heard of such a thing and even contacted Apollo mission personnel who also didn’t remember the dang things. Eventually Dave Williams, curator at NASA’s National Space Science Data Center in Greenbelt, MD (where the above-pictured moon tree is) tracked down a newspaper article that mentioned some of the plantings.
Now, NASA’s trying to track down as many of the trees as possible and so far, Williams has found and documented 79 of ’em. Anyone who has a lead on where one may have ended up can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Just don’t email to report a weird-looking tree you once saw. Moon trees are completely normal trees…they’ve just been to the Moon.)