Humans have been fascinated with space since the beginning. And the moon, our natural satellite, is one of the most explored celestial bodies. Several missions have already been sent there. In Apollo 14, in particular, astronauts brought back to Earth approximately 500 seeds that accompanied them on the journey.
Over 50 years ago, Apollo 14 crew members Alan B. Shepard, Stuart A. Roosa, and Edgar D. Mitchell returned to our planet after spending a few days on the moon. On that return, they brought the seeds that were planted and gave rise to the so-called “moon trees”. These seeds were planted in several different countries, including Brazil.
The Apollo 14 mission was the eighth manned mission to our natural satellite, and the third to bring humans to the lunar surface. It was launched on January 31, 1971.
On February 5, the mission’s astronauts landed about 50 km from Fra Mauro Crater, the scheduled site for the Apollo 13 landing, which ended up not happening. On the mission, Commander Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell explored the region and collected about 42 kilograms of samples.
While the companions explored, Stuart A. Roosa, the command module pilot, stayed in orbit aboard the Kitty Hawk module and took high-resolution photos of Descartes’ lunar region.
Apollo 14 Seeds
In addition to the photos taken, he took with him a can with 500 seeds from the most varied trees . When they returned to Earth these seeds were planted and gave rise to the “moon trees”.
The idea of taking the seeds to the moon comes from the beginning of Roosa’s career. That’s because before he became a pilot, he worked in the United States Forest Service as a smokejumper.
So when he started his training, the Forest Service got in touch and asked if he would take some seeds on his trip to the moon. Roosa agreed and a geneticist at the institution selected five different tree species.
This trip was the first time that seeds were going to be sent somewhere outside of Earth. Thus, the seeds were taken as an experiment. After all, once completed, it would determine the effects of deep space on seeds.
Where are the seeds today?
After the Apollo 14 mission returned to Earth, the can with the seeds went through some procedures. This is because, in its decontamination, its structure ended up broken and the seeds were mixed. As a result, there was concern about their status and whether they could still twin.
However, the seeds were sent to the Mississippi and California Forest Service. There, the researchers analyzed whether they could still be planted and give seedlings.
In all, 450 seedlings were made and distributed among schools, universities, parks, and government institutions in the United States. The locations where these seeds were planted were chosen, in part, to ensure optimal climatic conditions for each species.
These trees have thrived here on our planet and have already given life to a second generation with their seeds. These are called “half-moon trees” and, like their original ones, they continue to grow in various parts of the Earth.
Although this experiment has a scientific character and was carried out by two large US government organizations, neither of them kept records of exactly where the seeds were planted.
“When I see the original Moon Trees, many of them are planted in capitals, botanical gardens, and parks, but as far as I am aware, there is no documentation of this,” said Rosemary Roosa, the astronaut’s daughter.
In the meantime, the last moon tree she knows was planted by herself, with her father, in Austin, Texas, in the house where they lived.
It is known that the seeds were also sent to other countries. However, it is not known exactly where. According to Steve Miller, vice president of the International Astronomical Society, some went to the UK.
However, NASA was able to track the location of approximately 60 of them. With this, it was found that the majority are in the USA. However, there are some in Japan, Switzerland, and even Brazil. According to NASA records, there are three moon trees in Brazil.
One is a liquidambar that was planted in Brasilia on January 14, 1980. It is in an area that belongs to the current Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA).
The other two moon trees are in the Rio Grande do Sul, one of which is a coastal sequoia, which is in Praça Central São José, in the city of Cambará do Sul. The other is also a coastal sequoia and can be found in the Parque da Fenasoja, in the city of Santa Rosa, in the state of Rio Grande do Sul.