The Moon Trees


“Scattered around our planet are hundreds of creatures that have been to the Moon and back again. None of them are human.”—NASA


On January 31, 1971, Apollo 14 lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, launching astronauts Edgar Mitchell, Alan Shepard, and Stuart Roosa to the moon. Roosa, an Air Force test pilot, had also served as a “smokejumper” for the U.S. Forest Service, parachuting out of planes to help put out forest fires. He and a colleague named Stan Krugman wanted to find out whether tree seeds would still grow after a trip to space.

With the approval of NASA, Krugman chose five varieties: sycamores, sweetgums, Douglas firs, redwoods, and loblolly pines. He chose most of them because they grow well all over the country, and chose redwoods because they are so well-known. He kept an identical group on Earth as a control. “The scientists wanted to find out what would happen to these seeds if they took a ride to the Moon,” said Krugman. “Would the trees look normal?”


Apollo 14 is famous for a different experiment: moon golf. While Roosa (and his 500 seeds) orbited in the Kitty Hawk command module 118 miles above the surface, Alan Shepard used a modified lunar collection device to send a few chip shots into the Fra Mauro crater. On the mission’s return to Earth, the seeds were accidentally exposed to a vacuum during decontamination procedures. They were “traumatized,” said Krugman, but after careful attention, they all started growing.

NASA gave away most of the Moon Trees—which is what they’re called—as part of America’s Bicentennial Celebration in 1976. One was planted in Philadelphia’s Independence Square by Roosa…

The Tradition of the NASA Wake-Up Call

NASA began the tradition of playing music to wake up astronauts in 1965. Since you don’t have the normal sunrise and sunset in orbit, it was considered important to regulate astronauts’ sleep time to coordinate with each other and with Mission Control. The very first musical wake-up call was a parody of “Hello Dolly,” with lyrics re-written for the mission, sung by Jack Jones. From that time until 2011, the NASA wake-up call has been a surprise for the astronauts, and often a meaningful selection.

No one really knows why a “Hello Dolly” parody was the first wake-up call, but NASA Chief Historian Bill Barry told PRI that it may have simply been…

NASA Is Developing an Inflatable Greenhouse to Use on Mars

image credit: University of Arizona

When astronauts finally make it to Mars, they’ll need something to eat. And while NASA is working on shelf-stable rations for those eventual missions, astronauts will ideally be able to grow their own plants while exploring other worlds. That’s where the University of Arizona’s inflatable greenhouse comes in, designboom reports.

The University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture Center is helping the space agency develop a closed-loop system that can provide astronauts with food, clean the air, and recycle waste and water in alien environments. This “bioregenerative life support system” uses plants and LEDs to recreate what’s essentially a miniature Earth environment, according to designboom.

The Lunar Greenhouse prototype is an 18-foot-long, 7-foot-wide cylinder that is designed to take the carbon dioxide that astronauts breathe out and turn it into oxygen through plant photosynthesis. Astronauts would introduce…