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‘Moon tree’ descendant planted at A&M to commemorate Apollo 14 mission
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‘Moon tree’ descendant planted at A&M to commemorate Apollo 14 mission

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Around 15 people gathered at Texas A&M University’s AgriLife Center on Monday to plant a “moon tree” descendant to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 14 moon mission.

The tree is a clone of one of the original “moon trees” taken on Apollo 14 in 1971, which was obtained by the A&M Forest Service and grown at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Southern Research Station. It was planted at the Leach Teaching Gardens on A&M’s campus.

“The Gardens is all about learning about nature, it’s about learning about agriculture and this tree really signifies both the important role of trees and nature of trees to the economy,” said Patrick Stover, vice chancellor for Texas A&M AgriLife, dean of A&M’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and director of A&M AgriLife Research, “but it also reflects technology and how that tree is a second-generation space tree and points to the future of how we’re going to have to start thinking about agriculture, not only here on Earth, but in space as we go to the moon and Mars and colonize.”

On February 6, 1971, Apollo 14 Commander Alan Shepard took a few golf swings off on the lunar surface during his mission.

The Apollo 14 mission was the third Apollo mission, landing on the moon Feb. 5, 1971. Astronauts Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell walked on moon, while Stuart Roosa orbited above in a command module.

Roosa was the one on the Apollo 14 mission who packed hundreds of tree seeds in his personal kit. The seeds, which have since become known as “moon trees” were germinated by the U.S. Forest Service upon their return to Earth and planted throughout the United States.

Roosa’s daughter, Rosemary, gave a video message at Monday’s tree planting. Roosa said the Moon Tree Foundation has committed to planting 50 trees in 50 locations to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 14 mission.

“The motto of the Moon Tree Foundation is ‘planting the seeds of inspiration,’” Roosa said. “So, what a perfect spot at a place that inspires young minds and students to reach for the stars in their own way.”

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Among those in attendance included Col. Mike Fossum, A&M Class of 1980, who is a former NASA astronaut and now chief operating officer of the A&M-Galveston campus. Fossum explained during the ceremony how as a kid he loved the Apollo missions, which helped fuel his dream to go to space.

With the moon tree being a loblolly pine, Fossum said there was extra sentiment since he used to take Boy Scouts to Bastrop, which is full of loblolly pines.

“I love the symbolism of these trees because this tree is actually a graft from the original tree, so the DNA in this tree went to the moon,” Fossum said. “I imagine in the years ahead, as this tree stretches its branches towards the heavens, I imagine myself laying on my back, kind of underneath the tree, looking up at the stars, at the moon still hanging up there, maybe at Mars, thinking about the next steps because that sense of wonder and that personal dream that becomes a driving force in one’s life, that’s what it was for me and I hope it serves as a little touchstone of inspiration for people for many decades to come.”

During a ceremony before planting the tree, Stover noted how the garden was missing a forestry component and added it was appropriate to have the moon tree be the first and signature forestry representation in the garden.

“The Texas A&M Forest Service is world-class and to really represent that agency in the Gardens, we really needed something special,” Stover said. “I can tell you that tree is special, but it really reflects how special our Forest Service is and how world-class it is.”

Right now, research is being done between A&M and NASA to figure out how to grow things on a space station or a mission to Mars to supplement astronauts’ food, Fossum said. Stover said he was on a conference call last week with NASA officials discussing how A&M and NASA could form closer ties in overcoming challenges to colonize the moon and Mars involving agriculture.

“They want to have deep relationships with us to overcome these challenges,” Stover said. “Now out here in the garden, we’re going to have this tree that’s going to look back at the Apollo mission, but also look forward at how agriculture is going to be the solution to space travel and colonizing the moon and Mars.”

Roosa said during her video presentation that the Moon Tree Foundation hopes to see moon tree seeds go back to the moon during NASA’s Artemis program, which is committed to putting a man and a woman back on the moon by 2024.

“We will absolutely do that in a symbolic way, and I look forward to it,” Fossum said. “We’re going to be back to the moon. I’m not sure if it’s going to be in four years, but we’re going to be back to the moon, and I think it’s very, very important for us to finish that journey.”

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