The Transylvania Times -

Moon Tree Planted At PARI During Eclipse


August 24, 2017

To commemorate the solar eclipse on Monday, Rosemary Roosa, daughter of Apollo 14 astronaut Stuart Roosa, planted a tree at the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI) in Rosman.

Rosemary was 7 years old when her father joined astronauts Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchel on Apollo 14, the United States’ third landing on the moon.

“He flew to the moon on Jan. 31 and splashed down on Feb. 9, 1971,” Roosa said.

Roosa said she remembered the Saturn 5 rocket standing “majestically” on the launch pad, and the ground shaking beneath her feet as the engine prepared to launch.

“The rocket was so heavy,” Roosa said. “It stayed on the launch pad for a few moments before slowly ascending upward.”

Stuart Roosa named his command module “Kitty Hawk,” in honor of Orville and Wilbur Wright’s first flight experiment in Kitty Hawk, N.C.

“Just as the Wright Brothers started with their first flight here in North Carolina, my father felt that at some point space travel should become commonplace,” Roosa said.

Inside Kitty Hawk, which orbited the moon for three days as Mitchell and Shepard conducted experiments on the moon’s surface, was a canister of tree seeds.

“It all started when my father took a summer job at the U.S. Forest Service in Oregon,” Roosa said. “He was a smoke jumper, parachuting into remote areas of the national forest, carrying on his back things he would need to contain the fire.”

She said her father eventually decided to pilot planes instead of jumping out of them, so he joined the Air Force, becoming a top fop fighter pilot at Langley Air Force Base, where he met her mother, Joan Barrett, who was teaching at the base.

“My mother was from Mississippi and she actually went to grade school with Elvis Presley, so I never knew who was more famous: my dad going to the moon or my mom knowing Elvis,” Roosa said.

From Langley, Stuart went to Edwards Air Force Base, where United States Air Force General Officer Chuck Yeager, the first test pilot to have exceeded the speed of sound, was stationed at the time.

Impressed with Stuart’s pilot skills, Roosa said it was Alan Shepard who asked her father to pilot Apollo 14.

When hearing of his selection, the U.S. Forest Service asked Stuart to take a variety of tree seeds, including Sycamore seeds.

“Every Apollo astronaut was allowed to take a few personal items in the Saturn 5 rocket, and these items were stored in the Pilot Preference Kit (PPK), so my father took these seeds,” Roosa said.

During those days, Roosa said, it wasn’t known how space travel would affect the astronauts, much less the seeds.

“NASA wasn’t sure if the astronauts would contract some weird space disease and wipe out civilization, so they literally incinerated the air they breathed when they came back,” Roosa said, holding the Sycamore Tree upright. “And they weren’t sure if the trees would grow normal, or in some strange way, so they sent the seeds upon return to an experimental station in Mississippi and one in California, but as you can see today, they grow quite normal.”

When her father returned, Roosa said an exciting time followed.

“Richard Nixon was the president, and we were invited to the White House, and Vice President Spiro Agnew gave me a golf ball with the presidential seal on it,” she said.

Her father then gave a speech at the United States’ Congress and even appeared on the Johnny Carson Show.

“It seems, though, in the post-flight appearances and publicity, that the story of the tree seeds became a mystery,” Roosa said.

Then, in 1976, Stuart retired from the Air Force and NASA.

“That was the year of America’s bicentennial, and the moon seeds were planted across the United States in honor of America’s 200 years,” Roosa said.

“My father planted some in person, and others were sent to almost every state in the U.S.,” Roosa said.

Stuart Roosa died on Dec. 12, 1994, at 61. In 2011, the 40th anniversary of Apollo 14 was celebrated.

“There was a resurgence and interest in the history of the moon trees, and I started the Moon Tree Foundation to carry on these second generation moon trees, one of which I am planting here at PARI today,” Roosa said.

Little did she know, PARI was once a tracking station where Rosman local Joe Collins worked during the Apollo era.

Roosa, a Mississippi native, said she had not heard of PARI until some friends told her about it at a Christmas party.

Upon arrival at PARI, she got to meet Collins, who was asked by PARI President Don Cline to help plant the Sycamore Moon Tree.

“Joe Collins, who is here today, was with NASA and tracked the Apollo 14 splash-down in the Atlantic Ocean and helped to call the families,” Roosa said. “We were able to watch it on my RCA color TV and shortly thereafter we received the phone call, thanks to Mr. Collins here.”

Neither Collins nor Roosa knew they would be meeting each other, or had an idea of their connection until they began talking on Monday.

“Today, we are going to dedicate this tree in the name of science, nature and again for it to be a living legacy that will hopefully inspire children and the space program,” Roosa said.

Her father planted the original moon tree at Mississippi State University in Starkville, Miss., and she said this is a second-generation tree of that first tree.

“Little did we know the legacy that my father, Stuart Roosa, had started 40 years ago,” Roosa said. “Let us continue this legacy of the moon trees in honor of exploration, science, unity and peace for all mankind.”


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