During the United States Bicentennial Celebration in 1976, sapling trees that had been grown from germinated seeds that had orbited the moon during the Apollo 14 mission were planted across the nation. Four of those saplings, commonly known as moon trees, were planted in Arkansas.
In January 1971, Apollo 14, one of six NASA missions to land on the moon, was launched. During each mission, the astronaut were each allowed to carry a small amount of personal belongings, which could include items such as books, condiments, and holiday decorations. Among the possessions of Astronaut Stuart Roosa was a small metal canister about the size of a soft-drink can containing several hundred tree seeds.
Roosa, pilot of Apollo 14 command module and a former U.S. Forest Service smokejumper, had been asked by the chief of the U.S. Forest Service, Ed Cliff, to carry the seeds into space. While NASA agreed to allow the seeds on the mission as a reported scientific experiment to examine the effects of gravity on germination, it was mostly a public relations maneuver.
The canister of seeds did not touch the moon surface but remained on the command module and orbited the moon thirty-four times. On reentry to the earth’s atmosphere, the canister ruptured, and it was feared that the seeds were damaged or destroyed. Once decontaminated, the seeds were transported to U.S. Forest Service stations in Gulfport, Mississippi, and Placerville, California, for germination. Approximately 450 saplings, from five varieties of trees, were produced from the seeds.
The saplings were distributed throughout the United States and the world. Four saplings of the Arkansas state tree, the loblolly pine, were planted in the state. All four of the trees were planted on Arbor Day, March 15, 1976, although only two survived by 2021. The trees that did not survive were planted at the Arkansas Forestry Commission headquarters in Little Rock (Pulaski County) and on the campus of the University of Arkansas at Monticello (UAM). The Monticello (Drew County) tree died sometime after 1981; however, a plaque was placed to commemorate its planting. The two surviving trees are located on the grounds of the 1836 Hempstead County Courthouse at Historic Washington State Park and on the grounds of the old Sebastian County Courthouse in Fort Smith (Sebastian County). Both trees are listed with the Arkansas Famous and Historic Trees program.
For additional information:
Forgione, Mary. “Moon Trees Enduring Link to Space Flight.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, August 18, 2019, p. 4E.
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