Astronaut Stuart Roosa didn’t take much with him on his trip to the moon in 1971. What did make the trip, though, were about 500 tree seeds, as part of an experiment by NASA and the U.S. Forest Service about seed germination during space travel.
Apparently unaffected by their trip, the seeds sprouted into seedlings. One of the resulting seedlings ended up in 1975 being planted in the rich soil near Oregon State University’s Peavy Hall.
A crowd of about 30 people gathered there Wednesday to witness the unveiling of a plaque dedicated to the high-flying Douglas fir’s journey to the moon — and to honor Roosa.
Then 37, Roosa piloted Kitty Hawk, the command module for Apollo 14 during NASA’s third trip to the moon. He did not descend to the surface, instead orbiting alone in the module for 33 hours, performing experiments — including tending the seeds. He was proud of the forestry experiment and the “moon trees” that dot locations across the country.
After a career that included stints as a smokejumper, test pilot, astronaut and businessman, those 50 remaining “moon trees” were a living testament to the space program — long after Roosa’s death in 1994 from complications due to pancreatitis.
Many students who walk OSU’s campus pass the tree without knowing its story — but they will now.
OSU’s College of Forestry and the Oregon NASA Space Grant Consortium, a NASA-funded program with a location at OSU, held a dedication ceremony Wednesday to place a plaque at the tree. The consortium promotes educational opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math for students and faculty.
Joe Majeski, the manager of facility services at OSU, and Thomas Maness, the dean of the College of Forestry, initiated the ceremony by talking about the moon-seed tree that has grown into a 35-foot fir.
Catherine Lanier, the assistant director of the Oregon NASA Space Grant Consortium, said the tree stands as a symbol of the past and present, as well as collaboration among diverse organizations.
“Everyone comes together to maintain it,” Lanier said.
Jack Higginbotham, the director of the consortium, delivered the plaque dedication speech and spoke about Roosa’s life.
Majeski said it was important to note the tree’s significance.
“It’s living history, and it continues to remind us of efforts in the past by people who have done great things,” he said.