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‘Moon Tree’ destroyed by Hurricane Irma

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex's "Moon Tree" was lost to Hurricane Irma, which made its pass over the Sunshine State on Feb. 11, 2017. Photo Credit: Beverly S. Rother

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex’s “Moon Tree” was lost to Hurricane Irma, which made its pass over the Sunshine State on Sept. 11, 2017. Photo Credit: Beverly S. Rother

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — While Hurricane Irma only caused minor damage to facilities at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, the storm did destroy a unique plant: a Moon tree. Beginning as one of the hundreds of seeds that were taken to lunar orbit during the Apollo 14 mission in 1971, it was planted at the visitor complex during the United States Bicentennial.

The seeds were taken to the Moon by Apollo 14 Command Module Pilot Stuart Roosa. The mission launched on January 31, 1971, from KSC’s Launch Complex 39A located in Florida. In total, the mission lasted nine days – safely splashing down in the South Pacific on February 9, 1971.

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex's "Moon Tree" was lost to Hurricane Irma, which made its pass over the Sunshine State on Feb. 11, 2017. Photo Credit: Beverly S. Rother

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex’s “Moon Tree” was lost to Hurricane Irma, which made its pass over the Sunshine State on Sept. 11, 2017. Photo Credit: Beverly S. Rother

While Commander Alan Shepard and Lunar Module Pilot Edgar Mitchell were on the lunar surface, Roosa orbited solo for nearly three days with the seeds. They were packed inside his personal travel kit and included redwood, loblolly pine, sycamore, Douglas fir, and sweet gum tree seeds.

The seeds were taken into space upon the request of Ed Cliff, the chief of the Forest Service between 1962 and 1972. Roosa, who was a former smokejumper with the Service, agreed.

Scientists wanted to find out if the seeds, after being in microgravity for nearly two weeks, would grow the same once returned to Earth. This became one of the early space experiments of the early 1970s.

Unfortunately, once returned to Earth, the seed canister had burst open during the decontamination process. Consequently, the different seed species had become mixed together, so the scientists thought that the seeds would no longer be usable or able to germinate.

After they were shipped to the Forest Service labs, scientists discovered that most of the seeds had survived and ultimately were planted. Some were planted and observed for 20 years next to an Earth-bound control group. Nobody was able to tell the difference.

Many of these Moon trees were planted for the United States Bicentennial in 1976. Locations included the White House, Independence Square in Philadelphia, various state capitals, and university campuses.

One of those seeds, a sycamore, was planted at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on June 25, 1976, in the courtyard. Additionally, when Roosa died in December 1994, one of the Moon tree seeds was planted at his grave in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

While Hurricane Irma made landfall on the west coast of Florida as a Category 3 storm, the conditions around Kennedy Space Center were still equivalent to a Category 1. The most intense winds were on September 10, 2017.

Apollo 14 crew photo credit NASA

The crew of Apollo 14. From left-to-right: Lunar Module Pilot Edgar Mitchell, Commander Alan Shepard, and Command Module Pilot Stu Roosa. The “Moon Tree” was placed in Roosa’s keeping while his companions explored the Fra Mauro region of the Moon. Photo Credit: NASA

 

 

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Beverly S Rother has been employed by Delaware North at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in retail, customer service and as an educator since November of 2014. Rother has had an extensive and successful background in luxury travel sales and marketing. Her past career was in medical materials management with contract negotiations, budgets and more. Because space is her passion, she is actively involved in social media with more than 5,000 followers and regularly gives up-to-date information about current and past space industry achievements and milestones. Moreover, she is the secretary of the new South Florida Chapter of the National Space Society. Additionally, she speaks professionally about space tourism and co-authored a children’s book about the Solar System.

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