HONOLULU (KHON2) — For many generations prior to the discoveries of Galileo, the moon was thought to be a fixed object in the sky. Lots of societies pondered what may exist beyond the far side of the moon.

While trees do not grow on the moon, today, we have trees on Earth that have traveled to the moon and back when Apollo 14 crew member, Stuart Roosa, participated in the Artemis Moon Trees project back to 1971.

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The seeds were grown into seedlings then planted across the U.S. Many of these trees still exist and have their own half-moon tree offspring. Sadly, most of the moon trees that were planted have been forgotten by the collective memory of the nation.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service said they have expanded this program which is a collaboration between the Forest Service and NASA.

NASA’s Orion spacecraft participated in the Artemis program, carrying 1,200 seeds from five tree species on its journey. This will allow scientists to explore how seeds are impacted by extended space travel.

“This X-ray machine is really magical,” said Kayla Herriman, a seed extractory manager with the Forest Service in Bend, Oregon. “It allows me to see what’s going on inside a seed coat and determine whether that seed has tissue that we think will become a tree.”

The seeds were examined via x-ray before the mission left Earth so that scientists would have up-to-date and accurate information on the seeds’ structure, coating and composition.

“We made sure the seeds were filled with good tissue before we sent them up. So, now, the x-ray will help paint a picture of how the space voyage may or may not have changed them,” explained Herriman.

The seeds were also sealed in special packages to ensure their health during their space journey.

“We created ‘ravioli’ packets that contained samples of each seed in the event some needed to be removed because of weight or size concerns,” Herriman said. “We ended up packaging the seeds so well that NASA didn’t need to remove any, and we could have even sent more!”

The voyage took place between Nov. 16 and Dec. 11, 2022 and traveled 270,000 miles from Earth and then back again.

The five species of trees selected — loblolly pine, American sycamore, sweetgum, Douglas fir and giant sequoia — were chosen due to their common occurrence in the lower 48 states.

  • Kayla Herriman pauses from x-raying seeds to pose for a picture. (Photo/Malcolm Howard via U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service)
  • Moon Tree seeds encased in their raviolis with a ruler for scale. (Photo/Kayla Herriman via U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service)
  • Samples of all five tree seed species that flew into space. Variations in seed size and shape help each one survive in different environments. (Photo courtesy of Kayla Herriman via U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service)
  • A photo shows the moon tree Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) planted February 25, 1976, next to the Dunn Formal Rose Garden at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, Alabama. (Photo/Lawrence Michelove via NASA)
  • A photo shows the University of Arizona moon tree which is a sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) planted on April 30, 1976. The tree is located between the Kuiper Space Sciences Building and the Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium on the University of Arizona campus in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo/University of Arizona via NASA)
  • A photo shows the moon tree Loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) planted on March 15, 1976 on the Sebastian County Courthouse grounds in Fort Smith, Arkansas. (Photo/Sebastian County via NASA)
  • A moon tree sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), along with two moon trees loblolly pines, were given to the University of Florida School of Forestry in 1976 and planted near the forestry building circa 1977. (Photo/Chiho Sullivan via NASA)
  • A photo shows a moon tree Loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) located at the Clarke County Planning Department in Athens, Georgia. It was planted around May 1976 at the Athens Regional Public Library. (Photo/Amy Hager via NASA)
  • A photo shows moon tree Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga Menziesii) planted in spring 1976 on the east lawn of Peavy hall on the University of Oregon campus in Corvallis, Oregon. (Photo/Edward Jensen/O.S.U. College of Forestry via NASA)

“Four of the five species flown on the original Moon Trees mission were onboard again because they are common species and represent a broad geographic area of the lower 48 states,” said Kasten Dumroese, research plant physiologist and national nursery specialist with the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station.

Two new species were added to the collection. The American sycamore and Douglas-fir were selected since they have large natural ranges.

This vital research allows scientists to understand how food can be transported and grown in space expeditions. For now, these space traveling “Moon Trees” will be grown alongside the same species of trees to see how space travel impacted their growth and development.

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“These Moon Trees are one way that someone from any community can connect to something they’re not usually exposed to,” Herriman said. “This project opens a door for curiosity.”