In a nod to the legacy of Apollo 14, and a celebration of the future of space exploration, NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement Next Gen STEM Project and the United States Forest Service USDA team up to fly special payload aboard Artemis I, NASA’s first flight test. the Space Launch System rocket and the Orion spacecraft. Through a joint collaboration on STEM education that connects Artemis I programming with earth science, data literacy and citizen science, a “next generation” of Moon Tree seeds is destined for lunar orbit .
One thousand tree seeds of five different species representing a range of climates across the lower 48 United States are packaged in dumpling-shaped pouches awaiting their historic journey aboard Orion, which will travel thousands of miles above- beyond the Moon during the mission. Nestled alongside payloads and scientific memories, the tree seeds will travel farther than any spacecraft designed for human exploration has ever flown, spending approximately 6 weeks in space before returning to Earth.
Original moon trees rooted in Apollo’s legacy
More than half a century ago, NASA astronaut Stuart (Stu) Roosa, Apollo 14 mission command module pilot and former USDA Forest Service paratrooper, carried tree seeds loblolly pine, sycamore, sugar gum, coast redwood, and lunar-orbiting Douglas firs. While teammates Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell spent two days exploring the lunar surface, Roosa conducted experiments aboard the command capsule Kitty Hawk with the first generation of Moon Tree seeds in tow, completing 34 full lunar orbits. before the return trip to Earth.
The Apollo 14 moon trees were grown as seedlings by the forest service and eventually broadcast to dignitaries around the world, with many distributed as part of the nation’s bicentennial event. For a time, the final location of many Apollo Moon Tree seeds remained a mystery. Through an investigation by a third-grade teacher in 1996, NASA planetary scientist and lunar historian Dr. David Williams launched a campaign to locate Apollo’s lunar trees, leading to the most extensive database on the lunar trees and to the historical archives describing the milestones of the lunar tree.
Embarking on a new journey with Artemis I
Once again, five tree seed species will fly to the Moon, mirroring the selection provided to Roosa over 50 years ago.
“Four of the five species piloted on the original Moon Trees mission are on board [a NASA moon mission] again because they are common species and together represent a large geographic area of the lower 48 states,” said USDA Forest Service Senior Scientist Dr. Kasten Dumroese. “The coast redwood, which has a somewhat limited native range, has been replaced by its cousin, the giant sequoia, which is more widely used in parks and arboretums. For this mission, scientists included additional seed sources for two species with large natural ranges: American sycamore and Douglas fir. These additional seed sources will help the Moon Trees team match these species to planting sites to ensure long-term genetic adaptability.
Tree seeds packed in ravioli-shaped sachets. The five species flying with Artemis I include:
- Loblolly pine (Pinus taeda): fast-growing conifer native to the southeastern United States; one of the most common species in the United States
- American plane tree (Platanus occidentalis): deciduous tree native to the central and eastern United States; known to live up to 600 years.
- Liquidambar (Liquidambar styraciflua): A deciduous tree native to Texas east of the Atlantic Ocean and north of the Great Lakes, marked by deep glossy green star-shaped leaves.
- Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum): Native to California, a conifer with distinct red/orange bark; known to reach ages of up to 3,400 years and among the tallest trees in the world.
- Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii): conifer native to western North America; its name pays homage to the intrepid botanist and explorer David Douglas.
Back on Earth, the Forest Service will germinate the new Moon Tree seeds and turn them into seedlings. Public and educational institutions across the United States will have the opportunity to submit a proposal to serve as Guardians of Moon Tree. Information about the proposal opportunity will be posted through NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement no earlier than 30 days after the splashdown.
To find out how you can be part of the Artemis mission, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/joinartemis