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Moon Trees in New Mexico

By Rick Hendricks

Some astronauts flying on Apollo missions were allowed to take small personal items along. When he went to the moon in 1971, Apollo 14 astronaut Stuart Roosa, a former US Forest Service (USFS) smokejumper, took tiny tree seeds to see how a trip to the moon would affect them, as part of a what NASA refers to as a joint NASA-USFS project.[1] Roosa did not walk on its surface, but he and the tree seeds made numerous orbits around the moon. Back on Earth, the seeds were germinated, and little trees began to grow, none the worse for their time in space.

By 1976 the seedlings were ready to play their part in the US Bicentennial, and nearly five hundred were dispatched to the fifty states and around the world. New Mexico's first moon tree, a twenty-eight-inch Douglas Fir, was planted on March 7 in the Civic Plaza in Albuquerque to the skirling of bagpipes. Senator Pete Domenci spoke.[2] Mrs. Clara Apodaca, wife of Governor Jerry Apodaca, received a Douglas Fir, which was planted on the State Capitol grounds on 22 July.[3] A bronze plaque identified the Governor's Bicentennial Moon Tree. When Smokey Bear Historical State Park opened in Capitan on 15 May 1976, another moon tree was planted.[4] Astronaut Dr. Robert Parker planted an American Sycamore on 5 October at the dedication of the International Space Hall of Fame in Alamogordo.[5] New Mexico native and astronaut Harrison H. Schmitt dedicated a moon tree in Gough Park in Silver City in August 1976.[6]

The location of the moon trees worldwide is largely unknown. No one kept track of where they all went. New Mexico planted five moon trees. The tree in Civic Plaza died, the bronze plaque that was placed at the capitol is nowhere to be found, the tree planted in Alamogordo died during a drought, and the fate of the other moon trees in New Mexico is a mystery.[7]

[1] Joshua Buck, Michael Hernandez, and Jay Bolden, “Smokey Bear to Celebrate 68th Birthday at Mission Control,” (accessed 13 March 2015).

[2] "Moon Tree for Civic Plaza,"The Albuquerque Tribune, 5 March 1976; "Beauty for the Plaza," The Albuquerque Journal, 8 March 1976.

[3] "Trees to be Planted," Silver City Daily Press, 22 March 1976; "Moon Fir Planted at Capitol," Clovis News-Journal, 27 July 1976.

[4] "State Park Dedication Conducted," The Albuquerque Journal, 17 May 1976.

[5] "International Space Hall of Fame Dedicated as New Mexico’s Tribute," Las Vegas Daily Optic, 6 October 1976.

[6] "'Moon Tree' Dedication Here Sunday," Silver City Daily Press, 14 August 1976.

[7] Michael Shinabery, "Apollo 14 'seeds' Earth with Moon Trees," Alamogordo Daily News, 2 February 2013.