ON MEETING AN ASTRONAUT

"Moon Trees", trees grown from seeds taken into space on a NASA Moon mission, were to be planted at various spots throughout the United States as a memorial to the importance of the space exploration program. One of the sites for a tree planting was in a small park behind Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

Since the Forest Service had been in league with NASA in the tree project, the Forest Service Office in Upper Darby, PA was appointed to assist in planning and coordinate the event, which would include suitable speeches, a formal dedication ceremony, and the actual planting of a sycamore seedling grown from a "moon seed". One of the highlights of the occasion was that astronaut Stuart Roosa would actually be there to plant the tree, thus giving the participants an up close and personal look at a real live astronaut who had been to the Moon and back. Roosa was a former Forest Service employee, a smokejumper, who had achieved the status of a larger-than-life American hero.

Actual event planning leadership fell to Tom Ellis, Information and Education Specialist. Tom knew an opportunity when he saw it, and thought it would be just great for some uniformed Scouts to be present. Thus I had the opportunity to bring two Boy Scouts, and another of our staff's wives would bring two Girl Scouts, all to serve as "Greeters and Seaters", and to hand out the programs. One of the Girl Scouts was Tom Ellis' daughter.

I arranged for son Alex, and another Scout, Frank Keegan, 13 and 14, to attend, and brought younger son Dave, 8, along, all three sharply dressed in their Cub and Boy Scout Uniforms. I thought it would be a valuable lesson for the young people to see that a real live astronaut was not 8 feet tall, but a rather normal sized and normal appearing man, in spite of the heroic image that surrounded all the astronauts. The message was that anyone could attain greatness if they wished.

The event was held, the weather was good, the tree was planted, the speeches were made, everybody met a real astronaut, and pictures were made with Mr. Roosa. The usual hub-bub surrounding such an occasion finally wound down. Amidst all that hub-bub, a news photographer got Dave to pose with the Moon Tree, and took his picture. No one knew much about this, as Dave only said some guy had taken his picture, but a couple of days later, there it was on the back page of the Philadelphia News.

In later years the tree, the memorial marker, and the cast iron fence around the tree were broken and stolen, but the memory of actually meeting an astronaut lingers on in the memories of some lucky Scouts!

Howard Burnett


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Last Updated: 14 February 2005, DRW