Did you know Utah has a Nasa Moon Tree? Pardon me, as a tree hugger by nature I’m surprised I had never heard of this beauty in our state. “This tree has boldly gone where no trees-and few humans-have gone before”, chimed KSL a few years back. And yes, sci-fi fans love the thought of humans growing plants in space so this is a great little piece of local trivia that will help you win any local pub’s trivia night!
First, the tree is located in an exterior corner of the State Forestry Department’s Lone Peak Office at 271 Bitterbrush Lane in Draper. Second, it’s a 52 year old sycamore tree that was planted here in 1976. Third, it’s a plant with a lot of history and fourth, it may be dead or almost dead.
In 1971 Apollo 14 blasted off from it’s launch pad and inside the cockpit one astronaut (Stuart Roosa) had a stash of tree seeds on him. Each flyer gets to carry a small personal amount of goods with them and this former Forest Service smokejumper was the perfect guy to give the seeds a ride. In his cannister there were @500 seeds-not just sycamore seeds, but hundreds of redwood, pine, fir and sweet gum seeds. His job was to bring them home safely to earth as the Command Module Pilot after orbiting the moon (and ultimately landing on it). The great news was that most of the seeds sprouted and NASA then divvied them out to various forestry departments around the country to see what would grow and if anti-gravity would effect what they grew into. Would there be freak trees? There aren’t any reports of odd growth that I could find.
Utah reportedly got two starts of sycamores and two of Douglas fir were planted in Utah. Utah state capitol building grounds and a local nursery. Folks around the country nicknamed them ‘moon trees’ and local interest was fairly high as to the future of these special plants. The nursery gave out cuttings and clones to its customers. Sadly, the tree at the capitol was destroyed by a freak tornado when it was split in half by the wind in August of 1999 and the other is somewhere by the old prison site in Draper by the State Forestry office out there. I wasn’t able to find out where the other two seedlings disappeared to in Utah as even the State doesn’t know where they are now and if they survived.
This past November NASA launched the Artemis rocket as part of a plan to get us back to land on and explore the moon. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has decided to reactivate the moon seed program for the future. What’s a bummer is that NASA forgot about the program for many years and lost where the trees had been planted around the country. A NASA employee was contacted by a teacher who found a plaque near a moon tree who had asked where others were planted. He had not heard of the program but ended up posting on social media asking for the public’s help finding the trees and hopefully plaques around the country. The current Moon Tree Foundation is now run by Roosa’s daughter who sees to plant moon trees around the world.