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Search begins for lost UK trees grown from seeds that were flown around the Moon

Image credit: Dreamstime

The UK Space Agency is searching for as many as 15 trees grown in the UK using seeds that were flown around the Moon by NASA astronaut Stuart Roosa on the Apollo 14 mission in 1971.

Roosa took around 500 seeds from tree species such as the sycamore and the loblolly pine with him on the Apollo mission. Although most of the seeds were subsequently planted in the United States, around 15 are thought to have come to the UK.

Professor Steve Miller, vice president of the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), has been following various leads to try and determine their whereabouts, but has so far met with no success.

Both Kew Gardens and the Jodrell Bank Arboretum have been contacted, but neither have any record of the seeds that supposedly came to the UK.

The RAS has already been promised a cutting from a second-generation 'Moon Tree', growing in a private garden in the village of Flamstead in the Chiltern Hills to the north of London.

“We’re incredibly grateful for that,” Miller said, “but we still want to know if any Apollo 14 seeds did come to the UK and – if so – just what happened to them?”

Nasa sent the Apollo Moon seeds into space to investigate whether and to what extent microgravity affects plants.

Research into microgravity's potential effects on seeds is still ongoing. In 2015, 2kg of rocket seeds spent six months onboard the International Space Station (ISS) with British astronaut Tim Peake.

When the seeds returned to Earth in 2016, children from schools and groups across the UK took part in an experiment to see if the radiation in space, which is up to 100 times more powerful than on Earth, would affect the seeds’ germination.

The results showed that while the rocket seeds grew more slowly and were more sensitive to ageing, they were still viable.

Libby Jackson, human exploration manager at the UK Space Agency, said: “Sending seeds to space helps us understand the effect of the unique environment on seeds’ biological makeup. 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.

“Space has a wonderful way of inspiring people. We saw that excitement when space saplings grown from the seeds from Newton’s apple tree were planted on our soil. I’ll be interested in discovering if any of the Moon seeds came to the UK and what has become of them.”

There are currently over 60 Moon Trees known to be alive on Earth, grown from the seeds of the 1971 Apollo mission.

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