Imagine you’re a single sycamore seed, an entire massive and elegant tree all wrapped up in a small shell not much larger than a single grain of rice. You have some lofty ambitions as a little seed just waiting for a chance to find a nice patch of soil, some warmth and light energy from The Sun, and maybe a few gallons of water from time to time. That’s all you need, pretty common for you and other seeds like you. But you’re no ordinary sycamore seed, are you?
The year is 1971 and you are about to travel further away from your home planet than most of the other seeds from Earth ever have or ever will for sometime.
You, and some other seeds like you (redwoods, pines, Douglas firs, and sweet gums) are packed into canisters and take off from a Florida based launch pad in 1971. Packed away in the personal kit of Stuart Roosa, an astronaut on the Apollo 14 mission to The Moon and back. You and your fellow seeds spend two weeks away from Earth’s atmosphere. You orbit The Moon 34 times during those two weeks, traveling farther and faster than any seed has ever hoped it could. No longer do you have the low, mundane goal of becoming a tree. You are star bound and destined to be studied upon your safe return to the planet.
You survive reentry and splash down, safe and sound with Astronaut Roosa and the rest of the crew. You and your seed mates excited to be studied by NASA biologists, how do you germinate after being exposed to micro-gravity? Anything altered in your DNA? So many questions awaiting to be answered and you have those answers within you. Until the worst happens. Your canister breaks during decontamination. You and hundreds of your seedling brothers and sisters intermix. You are no longer in a controlled environment and have been deemed no longer viable for testing. Utterly devastating.
But! All is not lost. You’re still perfectly capable of becoming that great and mighty tree. And a very special tree you can be. On June 25th 1976 you were planted at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. And you have been give the lofty title of The Moon Tree. You are even installed with a special sign that reads: THIS SYCAMORE WAS GROWN FROM A SEED CARRIED ON THE APOLLO XIV MISSION BY THE ASTRONAUT STUART ROOSA AND GERMINATED BY THE U.S. FOREST SERVICE. FORESTS GREETED THE FIRST EXPLORERS TO THESE FLORIDA SHORES. THEY PROVIDED MATERIAL FOR THE PIONEERS’ MEAGER EXISTENCE, AND ARE PART OF THE BOLD, RICH HERITAGE THAT LED MAN ACROSS THE THRESHOLD OF SPACE. PLANTED ON JUNE 25, 1976 – DIVISION OF FORESTRY, FLA. DEPT. OF AGRICULTURE & CS, U.S. FORESTRY SERVICE, NASA
You lived for 46 glorious years and provided guests to Kennedy with shade and wonder for all those years. Alas, hurricane Irma laid you low this year. But it is not the end. Your children, The Half-Moon Trees, and your other Moon Tree brothers and sisters will continue the legacy set forth. You live on still the hearts and minds of every scientists who looks up into the stars, into that vast void, and realizes that you have already made that journey 46 years ago, strapped to a rocket bound for the stars!