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Apollo 14 Moon Tree

Apollo 14 Moon Tree

First introduced in the Second Edition of the Mini Museum, we are excited to offer this rare item as a single specimen!

Above: Front of the Specimen Card

On January 31, 1971, Apollo 14 carried three astronauts to the moon along with hundreds of tree seeds. Upon return, the U.S. forest service successfully germinated a small number of seeds and dispersed the saplings during the bicentennial celebrations of 1975 and 1976.

Above: Moon Tree specimen at home with a Lego Lunar Lander. (Source: Mini Museum)

This specimen comes from a surviving moon tree: a Sycamore living on the campus of the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona. In 2014, The tree was damaged in a storm and a fallen limb was preserved by Senior Research Specialist and White House Champion for Change, Dolores Hill.

Above: Close-up of the Moon Tree branch cross-section. (Source: Mini Museum)

As pictured below, each hand-cut specimen is housed in an acrylic jar and ships in a classic, glass-topped riker display case measuring 4 1/2" x 3 1/2". Individual specimens are all roughly 1x1 cm. A small information card is also included, which serves as the certificate of authenticity.

Above: An example Moon Tree specimen with an information card sitting on top of a cross-cut branch section.

More About Apollo 14

"We sure picked a clear day to arrive - you can see all the way to the horizon."

~ Stuart Roosa, Apollo 14 Command Module Pilot, upon entering lunar orbit.


Above: Apollo 14 liftoff. Apollo 14 Saturn V climbs. January 31, 1971. (Source: NASA AP14-KSC-71PC-152)

The Apollo 14 mission was the 3rd crewed Apollo flight to land on the Moon’s surface. Launching from Complex 39-A on January 31st, 1971, the landing module touched down days later on February 5th with a mission to travel the surface and collect geologic samples. On one of these moonwalks, Commander Alan Shepard playfully hit a golf swing with a makeshift club, becoming the first man to golf in lunar gravity.

Above: Apollo 14 crew (top to bottom) of Ed Mitchell (LMP), Stu Roosa (CMP), and Alan Shepard (CDR) pose on the ladder of a Lunar Module mock-up. July 1970, oh yes... definitely 1970! (Source: NASA AP14-S70-45581)

Shepard, along with his fellow astronauts Stuart Roosa, and Edgar Mitchell made up the crew of the mission. While Shepard and Mitchell explored the surface, Roosa was busy as well. He had brought along a packet of 500 seeds from pine, sycamore, sweetgum, redwood, and fir trees. An idea inspired by his days working for the US forest service, Roosa sought to see the effects of lunar gravity on the development of seedlings

Above: February 5th, 1971 Astronaut Alan B. Shepard Jr., commander of the Apollo 14 lunar landing mission, stands by the deployed United States flag on the lunar surface during the early moments of the first extravehicular activity (EVA) of the mission. Shadows of the Lunar Module (LM), astronaut Edgar D. Mitchell, lunar module pilot, and the erectable S-Band Antenna surround the scene of the third flag implanting to be performed on the lunar surface. While astronauts Shepard and Mitchell descended in the LM "Antares" to explore the Fra Mauro region of the moon, astronaut Stuart A. Roosa, command module pilot, remained with the Command and Service Modules (CSM) "Kitty Hawk" in lunar orbit. (Source: NASA AS14-66-9232)

Both the surface and orbit missions brought back interesting results. 94 pounds (43 kg) of moon rocks were hauled back to Earth, including a massive 19 pound stone nicknamed “Big Bertha.” As for Roosa’s seeds, almost all were germinated and sprouted upon return to the planet. The successful saplings were donated to state forestry programs a few years later as a part of the Apollo 14 bicentennial.

Above: "Big Bertha" Lunar Sample 14321 the third largest Moon sample returned during the Apollo program. This sample also contains an embedded Earth-origin meteorite, a fragment of Canada's Acasta Gneiss the oldest dated rock formation on earth. (Source: NASA AS14-S71-29181)

What makes these trees so scientifically interesting is that they developed without issue and were indistinguishable from their planet side counterparts. As an important early step in the field of astrobotany, this experiment showed that extended movements through low and zero gravity spaces did not stunt the growth of these plants. Such results pose exciting prospects for the use of planets in terraforming and perhaps even oxygen production on extraplanetary bases. Today, many of these trees can be found in parks, universities, and government sites, where they stand as a reminder to the amazing journey they took as tiny seeds.

Further Reading

Reynolds, David West, Wally Schirra, and Von Hardesty. Apollo: The epic journey to the Moon. New York: Harcourt, 2002.

Watkins, Billy. Apollo moon missions: the unsung heroes. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006.

Mitchell, Edgar D. Earthrise: My Adventures as an Apollo 14 Astronaut. Chicago Review Press. 2010.

Desrochers, Dan. "UA's moon tree struggles in dry climate." Arizona Daily Star. March 15, 2015

Above: Back of the Specimen Card

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