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Moon tree connects Olympia to Apollo mission history

The seed that sprouted this nearly 50-year-old Douglas Fir was one of about four hundred taken into space by astronaut Stuart Roosa in 1971.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Saturday marks 50 years since the historic Apollo 11 mission. It was the first time a human set foot on the moon. 

But the missions that came before and after helped set foundation for the understanding of our universe. Those missions let us know that the moon is inching away from the Earth at 1.5 inches per year. 

That adds up to almost six and a half feet since the launch of Apollo 11.

At the corner of Capitol Way and 14th Avenue in Olympia, just feet from the State house, you’ll see a tree that looks just like any another. The Douglas fir tree was grown from a seed that visited the moon in the pocket of Apollo 14 astronaut, Major Stuart Roosa, in 1971. 

RELATED: Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission splashes down at the Museum of Flight

“Lots of people may notice the tree but not realize the significance of a tree that has gone to the moon and come back,” said Dennis Johnson, a volunteer of the Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater Visitor Center and Convention Bureau.

The Apollo 14 mission was the third to successfully put men on the moon. Roosa, the pilot, was a former forest service smoke jumper. This tree is just one of 100 believed to be alive around the country today.

Roosa brought five types of seeds with him, sycamore, redwood, loblolly pine, sweetgum, and Douglar fir.

“This is such a neat story that no one knows about,” said Dave Williams, a Planetary Scientist for NASA.

Williams said the project went largely unrecorded until he started keeping track in 1996. He created a website to share the story of the moon trees. The seeds were mostly unchanged by the trip to space, as expected, but they do serve as a reminder of how far we’ve come.

“It was a great moment socially but scientifically as well. Still people don’t realize that so clearly,” Williams said.

“We have a whole different view of the moon than we had then. It doesn’t seem to be this big dead rock that we thought it was. There seems to be a lot going on the moon that we didn’t know about,” he continued.

Nearly 50 years after man first stepped foot on the moon this tree may perhaps be the most subtle reminder of their work.

“For half a century it’s been thriving here, reaching for the moon again,” Johnson said.

RELATED: Seattle native who was in mission control for moon landing remembers Apollo 11

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