Stuart Roosa and the Moon Tree Seeds
In 1951, Stuart Roosa, then 17 and freshly graduated from high school,
took a summer job with the U.S. Forest Service (U.S.F.S.) along with
some of his friends. They worked in Idaho on a project to control
blister rust disease on pine trees, and was also part of a wildland
firefighting ground crew. This is where he met hos first smokejumpers,
firefighter who would parachute out of airplanes to fight fires in
isolated, hard-to-reach areas. The next year he visited Cave Junction,
site of the Siskiyou smokejumpers base, and stayed in the bunkhouse with
the smokejumpers. This whetted his apetite enough that he applied and
was accepted for training in 1953.
Smokejumpers class of 1953, Stuart Roosa is standing, fourth from left
Roosa, based at Siskiyou, made many training jumps and four active jumps
in Oregon and California in the 1953 fire season. After that summer, he
joined the U.S. Air Force Cadet program. He went on to become a test
pilot, and in 1966 was selected as one of 19 members of the 5th
astronaut class and was chosen to be the Apollo 14 Command Module pilot.
Ed Cliff, Chief of the Forest Service, knew of Roosa from his days as a
smokejumper, and he, Roosa, and other Forest Service members came up
with the idea for the Moon Tree project. Stan Krugman headed up the
project and selected the seeds to be taken. "It was part science, part
public relations", Krugman joked.
Carl Ostrum letter giving sources of seeds /
Ron Dinus letter transferring seeds to Placerville
The species selected were sycamore, loblolly pine, sweetgum, redwood,
and Douglas fir, taken from lots of seeds collected at two
U.S.F.S. Institute of Forest Genetics (I.F.G.) stations, the southern
station in Gulport, Mississippi, and the western station in Placerville,
California. Each lot had seeds from a known source or locality, seeds of
each species were selected from one or two lots
roughly 500 seeds for each species.
sealed in plastic bags under the direction of Stan Krugman and Dr.
Charles Walkinshaw, a U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist on
special assignment with NASA at Johnson Space Center Houston. These were
then put into a 3-inch diameter, 6-inch long cylindrical metal canister
and stored in Stuart Roosa's personal (or pilot's) preference kit (PPK). The PPK was
a small canvas bag, each astronaut was allowed to take whatever they
chose with them. Many took photos, souvenirs, etc. to leave at the Moon
or to bring back to Earth. Stuart Roosa brought tree seeds.
Stuart Roosa holding the canister containing the tree seeds / Michael Collins' PPK at NASM
The seeds stayed with him in the Command Module from launch on January
31, 1971 until splashdown on February 9, orbiting the Moon 34 times.
After landing, the astronauts were quarantined in an isolation chamber
(The Mobile Quarantine Facility) for 17 days to make sure they hadn't brought back any contamination from
space. Similarly, everything else they had, including the PPKs, were put
through a decontamination procedure as well.
Apollo 14 Mobile Quarantine Facility display on the U.S.S. Hornet and part of Florida Today
article on Stan Krugman and the seed bags exploding
Part of the decontamination procedure involved putting everything in a vacuum chamber.
Unfortunately when this was done the sealed bags, which had been removed from the cannister, burst
due to the pressure difference.
The seeds were exposed to vacuum and spread all over the chamber. It was feared
the seeds might no longer be viable due to the explosive decompression
and exposure to vacuum, but Stan Krugman had the technicians gather up
the seeds and give them to him. He proceeded to sort all the seeds by hand, and
then gave them to Dr. Walkinshaw to be germinated.
A large selection of
the seeds were tried, and it quickly became apparent that the adventure
in the vacuum chamber had not damaged the seeds. Most of them began to grow as expected.
Unfortunately, the facilities in Houston were not adequate to maintain
the seedlings, and most, if not all of them, died within a year. The remaining seeds
were sent to the IFG stations they came from, in Gulfport and
Placerville, and with the better facilities there the seeds were grown
into healthy seedlings, which went on to become the Moon Trees.
According to the entry above, from the "Bicentennial of the U.S.A. Final Report to the People"", vol. 2, 1977,
seedlings were planted in 40 states. As of March, 2022, our list contains trees, living and dead, from
31 states. Two states (Nevada and North Dakota) are known to have received Douglas firs, but their
disposition is unknown. Another two states (Maine and Minnesota) were allotted Douglas fir seedlings,
but never requested them.
First two images and letters credit U.S. Forest Service
PPK image credit
National Air and Space Museum
- all rights reserved
Apollo 14 MQF image credit Dave Williams
News clipping credit Florida Today and Ken Roberts
Bottom clipping courtesy Erica Botkin
History of the Moon Coast Redwoods
History of the Moon Douglas Firs
History of the Moon Sycamores, Loblolly Pines, and Sweetgums
Moon Tree Home Page
Dr. David R. Williams, email@example.com
NSSDCA, Mail Code 690.1
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Greenbelt, MD 20771
NASA Official: Dave Williams, firstname.lastname@example.org
Last Updated: 10 August 2022, DRW