Britain on the hunt for 'moon trees' grown from seeds sent to space

·2 min read
Plaque at the base of the Fort Smith, Arkansas, Moon Tree. from Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moon_tree#/media/File:MoonTreePlaque.jpg Jesse Berry/Creative Commons - Jesse Berry/Creative Commons
Plaque at the base of the Fort Smith, Arkansas, Moon Tree. from Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moon_tree#/media/File:MoonTreePlaque.jpg Jesse Berry/Creative Commons - Jesse Berry/Creative Commons

A hunt for Britain’s 'moon trees' grown from seeds sent to space has been launched by the UK Space Agency.

Nasa sent around 500 seeds of various species on the Apollo 14 mission in 1971 to test the effects of deep space on growth for future human missions.

A capsule manned by astronaut Stuart Roosa orbited the moon before returning the loblolly pine, sweet gum, redwood, Douglas fir, and sycamore seeds to earth, where at least 60 trees were planted mainly in the US.

However, many of the seeds have gone missing over the decades, prompting the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) and the UK Space Agency to appeal for the public to locate any “living pieces of space history” in Britain.

It comes after Christine Walkden, the gardening television presenter, told BBC Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time that the country may be home to 15 moon trees.

“We are intrigued and it seems like a bit of a mystery,” Prof Steve Miller, the RAS vice president, told The Telegraph.

“If those seeds did come to the UK and produce trees, where on earth are they? We just don't seem to be able to track them down.”

The only known moon tree in Britain is a second-generation sapling in a private garden in Flamstead, a Hertfordshire village.

Kew Gardens and the Jodrell Bank Arboretum have no record of the Apollo 14 seeds.

Libby Jackson, of the UK Space Agency, said: “Understanding the effects of space on ungerminated seeds will be vital for future space missions, including when we look to sustain human life beyond earth.”

She added: “I'll be interested in discovering if any of the moon seeds came to the UK and what has become of them."

In 2015, scientists found that 2kg of rocket seeds were still viable, but slower growing, after spending six months aboard the International Space Station with Major Tim Peake, despite radiation levels 100 times greater than earth.

Seven apple trees were also grown in Britain after flying to the ISS, cultivated from the tree which inspired British physicist Sir Isaac Newton to examine the effect of gravity.

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