Bicentennial Moon Tree, commonly known as the “Moon Tree”, was a special sycamore tree planted in Philadelphia’s Washington Square Park in 1975 to honor the U.S. Bicentennial from seeds transported to the moon and back on the Apollo XIV mission in 1971, by astronaut Stuart A. Roosa.
The sycamore tree that was planted in Washington Square Park died circa 2008. As of 2011 there was still the base of the tree standing. In a ceremony on September 24th (which is National Public Lands Day) gardeners at Independence National Historical Park planted a clone created from the ailing Moon Tree. The tree that went to outer space was recycled to be made into wooden features or plaques on the park’s grounds.
Apollo 14 launched in the late afternoon of January 31,
1971, USA’s third trip to the lunar surface. Five days later Alan Shepard and
Edgar Mitchell walked on the Moon while Stuart Roosa, a former U.S. Forest
Service smoke jumper, orbited above in the command module. Packed in small
containers in Roosa's personal kit were hundreds of tree seeds, part of a joint
NASA/USFS project. Upon return to Earth, the seeds were germinated by the
Forest Service. Known as the Moon Trees, the resulting seedlings
were planted throughout the United States (often as part of the nation's
bicentennial in 1976) and the world. They stand as a tribute to astronaut Roosa
and the Apollo program.
Before joining the Air Force, Roosa had worked for the U.S.
Forest Service as a smokejumper. When he was later selected for the Apollo 14
mission, the Chief of the Forest Service asked him to consider carrying some
tree seeds with him into space. Roosa agreed and carried a small container of five
different types of trees - Loblolly Pine, Sycamore, Sweetgum, Redwood, and
Douglas Fir - in a small container in his personnel bag.
Upon the Astronauts return to Earth, the seed canister burst
after f being exposed to a vacuum, scattering and mixing up the different types
of seeds. All was not lost; the seeds were recollected and sent off to two
research facilities in Gulfport, Mississippi and Placerville, California for
germination experiments. The majority of the seeds germinated successfully and
the Forest Service had some 420 to 450 tree seedlings after a few years.
These Moon Trees were planted between 1975 and
1976 as part of the United States bicentennial celebrations. The sycamores,
loblolly pines, sweetgums, redwoods, and Douglas firs flourished just like
other trees, despite their experience out of gravity. However, after the
fanfare, the extraterrestrial origin story for many of the trees was