You have probably never heard of Stuart Roosa.
He was an astronaut on the Apollo 14 mission, the third American trip which sent men to walk on the surface of the moon. The mission launched on 31 January 1971 and Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell walked on the moon, Stuart Roosa did not.
But his is the story that is worth telling – Stuart Roosa took his first love to the moon and back, leaving a legacy to man and tree.
He orbited above the surface of the moon, in the command module, a total of 34 times. The significance of those orbits, was that in his personal belongings he carried a very special container which held hundreds of tree seeds.
To understand why this man had stashed away a canister of seeds in his kit, requires us to rewind the clock a little.
Stuart Roosa started his career as a smoke jumper for the US Forest Service. A smoke jumper, is a person who is part of the team that is sent in when smoke is seen coming from a forest. Usually the only way to get to the fire is to parachute in. Stuart clearly had a soft spot for trees, a prerequisite for a job which requires you to put your life on the line for them.
Stuart was also an adrenaline junkie, so he progressed from smoke jumper, to test pilot. The air force selected him for the astronaut class of 1966, which saw him jumping into space on several missions.
Serving forest services
Ed Cliff, was the Chief of the Forest Service at the time and knew Stuart from his days as a smoke jumper.
He viewed Stuart’s trip into space, as an opportunity to find out whether seeds were up to space travel. Stan Krugman, a research scientist employed by the Forest Services was tasked with assembling the special package, which Stuart agreed to take with him to the moon.
Seeds were chosen from five different types of trees :
Loblolly Pine, Sycamore, Sweetgum, Redwood, and Douglas Fir
In total about 400 – 500 seeds were stashed away in the canister , which was carried by Stuart on the Apollo 14 mission.
Hard landing damaged the canister
The seeds enjoyed the ride in space, but coming back to earth was a rough ride. During decontamination procedures, the canister bearing the seeds was exposed to a vacuum and burst.
Most people wrote the seeds off.
But Roosa returned the canister to Stan Krugman, who planted out the cannister’s contents. Most of them germinated and he nurtured the approx 420 baby trees.
Baby moon trees go places
By 1975, the little trees were ready to leave the nursery.
Stuart Roosa planted the first tree in Washington Square in Philadelphia. The remaining trees, played starring roles in many of the ceremonies held around America, as the country celebrated its bicentennial.
The moon tree man has passed on but his legacy lives on
Stuart Roosa died in December 1994.
Some of the moon trees have died too, but many still stand today. Many of them will still be standing hundreds of years from now, as living symbols of the remarkable human achievement of sending a man (and some seeds), to the moon.
And the special moon trees have produced their own seeds, many of which have grown into beautiful stately trees themselves. Thousands of half-moon trees also stand across America inspiring us to reach for the moon (and the stars).
Visit the website hosted by the National Space Science Data Centre which records the location of some of these special trees.
Plant a tree this Christmas
Remember, forests provide shelter to people, habitat to biodiversity; are a source of food, medicine and clean water; play a vital role in maintaining a stable global climate and environment. Forests are vital to the survival and well being of people everywhere, all 7 billion of us.Know someone who will find this post uplifting ? Share it on facebook, linkedin, twitter
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