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Learn The Mysterious Story Of Indiana's 'Moon Tree'

Moon Tree

With the recent return of astronaut Scott Kelly, scientists are attempting to see how a year in space affects the human body. Decades ago though, scientists were interested in learning more about the impact space has on other living things. The Apollo 14 lunar mission launched in 1971 sending men to the moon for the third time. On this particular mission, there were more than just three astronauts aboard.

The Story Behind Indiana’s Moon Tree

The sycamore tree right outside the statehouse has done more than most of us will do in a lifetime.

Along with 499 other seedlings, it tagged along on the Apollo 14 lunar mission and orbited the moon 34 times. The Command Module Pilot, Stuart Roosa, previously worked as a smoke jumper for the National Forestry Service. He decided to take a mixture of sycamore, redwood, and walnut seeds to space.

Greg McCauley is the current executive director of the Link Observatory in Mooresville. He arrived in Texas to work for NASA shortly after Apollo 14 launched. He knows the story of the moon trees well.

It looks like a normal tree to me. Maybe the second generation will be something alien and weird, I don’t know.

“These seeds were given to Stuart Roosa by the National Forestry Service to see if that long exposure to microgravity and cosmic radiation would cause any differences in the growth of the trees once the seeds were planted,” he says.

Most of the seeds were potted and observed in Mississippi for several years. After they appeared to be normal, the rest were given away.

McCauley says everyone wanted a moon tree.

“The White House got one, the Emperor of Japan got one, and Indianapolis got one."

There are around 75 known locations of the moon trees today, including a few other spots in Indiana. Records weren’t always kept so individuals are still trying to track some of the locations.

See The Historical Moon Tree For Yourself

The state planted the moon tree outside the Statehouse on April 9th, 1976 as part of Arbor Day and the nation’s bicentennial celebration. McCauley encourages everyone to go see it and remember those days of space exploration.

“Most of the Apollo astronauts have passed away, this tree lives on.”

The moon tree in Indianapolis is located on the east side of the Statehouse for anyone who wants to visit it. It’s not currently marked. McCauley says if the Statehouse would okay it, the Link Observatory would donate a plaque to clearly mark the tree.

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.

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