DILLSBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — A sycamore tree at Dillsburg Elementary has witnessed a lot in the past 38 years. New tricks, lots of games and perhaps some schoolyard crushes.
This tree happens to have a story of its own.
On January 31, 1971, Apollo 14 launches into space. Dave Williams, a member of the NASA space science data coordinated archive says, “Stuart Roosa, was the command module pilot and brought hundreds and hundreds of tree seeds with him to orbit the moon.”
“People have never heard of this and they are like ‘really, there’s trees that have been to the moon,'” Williams said.
Williams is in charge of archiving planetary data for NASA. He has been researching moon trees for over 20 years.
“There were five types, the sycamores, loblolly pines, sweet gums, Douglass fir and redwood. They bought them back to earth, they germinated them, they had these seedlings growing. So now there’s these trees that are growing from seeds that have been around the moon and back to earth growing all over the country, now we call the moon trees,” Williams said.
One of those trees ended up at Dillsburg Elementary and was planted on Arbor Day in 1983.
Jack Winieski now 90 years old, worked for the PA Bureau of Forestry when the tree was planted. “I was in a position where I could pull one off and treat it a little more carefully and put it where it is right now,” Winieski said.
“Trees have witnessed a lot of things and they still witness things,” Williams added.
Like Jennifer Gruber, she was a 5th grader at Dillsburg Elementary when the tree was planted.
“As an 11-year-old I was like, oh my goodness our tree went to the moon and it was so exciting, so for us it was a huge deal,” Gruber said.
Now she’s a 1st-grade teacher at the school. “I always make sure that they understand that’s a very special tree and why it is so special and they actually get really excited about it,” Gruber added.
Lyndsey Quintana, the principal at Dillsburg notes says, “A lot of arborists and different people that are interested in the moon tree come to Dillsburg just to visit this tree and learn more about it and apparently there is one group that calls every year that says is it still there?”
Because some of the moon trees did not survive.
So far about 100 moon trees have been identified in the U.S. Today, only 66 of them are still alive. Seven are in Pennsylvania, all of them are sycamore trees, only on here in the Midstate that we know of. Dave Williams with NASA is still trying to track them all down and has created a website to detail his effort.