AUSTIN (KXAN) — When Dennis Worsham bought his west Austin house in 1985, he knew the house came with a rumor. 

“While we were buying the house, the lady was telling us that an astronaut used to live here, and she thought there was a moon tree here,” he said.

This was true. Astronaut Stuart Roosa and his family lived in Worsham’s house in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s after Roosa retired from NASA. He was one of three astronauts on the Apollo 14 mission in 1971. 

As a nod to his smokejumper background and as a project with the U.S. Forest Service, Roosa brought several hundred seeds in his personal kit to the moon. Seeds included loblolly pine, sycamore, sweetgum, redwood and Douglas fir. 

The goal was to see if zero gravity had any effects on the tree seeds’ growth since scientists were newly exploring the effects of time spent in space. In the end, the trip to space had no effect on seed or tree growth.

“It was his ode for his love of the outdoors and trees and for his time in the Forest Service,” his daughter Rosemary Roosa said.

Roosa, a Westlake High School grad, said one day her father suggested planting his final moon tree seed in their yard.

“It wound up sprouting and growing, and so I’ve been in contact with the owners since then,” she said.

  • A moon tree was planted in west Austin in the late '70s or early '80s. (KXAN Photo/Taylor Girtman)
  • A moon tree was planted in west Austin in the late '70s or early '80s. (KXAN Photo/Taylor Girtman)
  • A moon tree was planted in west Austin in the late '70s or early '80s. (KXAN Photo/Taylor Girtman)

Today, Worsham is avidly working to keep Roosa’s moon tree legacy alive.

“I brought a tree expert out a couple of years ago, because I didn’t want to be ‘the guy who lost a moon tree on his watch,'” he said. “It’s kind of a responsibility.”

Roosa created the Moon Tree Foundation in 2011 to continue her father’s project. The nonprofit aims to plant 50 more moon trees for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 14 mission. Roosa said new moon trees are germinated from original moon trees.

“We just can’t let these beautiful living legacies of the Apollo era just fade into history,” Roosa said.

Where are the other trees? 

After returning to Earth, the Forest Service took over a majority of the seeds. Many were planted during the United States bicentennial in 1975-76 at state capitals, parks and schools.

However, a formal list of the moon tree locations was never kept. NASA has a limited list of tree locations. An estimated 70-80 living trees are left, Roosa said. Many were lost due to development and natural disasters. Others are not marked for fear of vandalism.

Their locations are “a bit of a mystery,” Roosa said. 

“A lot of people just stumble upon them,” Roosa said. “The majority of them have a plaque or are designated in some way. But some do not. It’s just by people knowing about it who have been there long enough.”

Other than the tree at the Roosa’s former home, one more known moon tree was planted in Texas at the Brazos County Arboretum in College Station. It was also a sycamore tree, however, it is no longer living.

Roosa is eyeing another Austin moon tree planting. She said there were discussions of planting one at Circuit of the Americas. Astronauts and racecar drivers have a shared “need for speed,” she said. Space flights reached up to 25,000 miles per hour or “faster than Superman,” her father used to say.

“The Apollo guys — they were just a different breed … they liked fast cars and fast jets and fast rockets,” she said. “So I think it would be a lot of fun to plant one there.”

People interested in planting new moon trees can contact the Moon Tree Foundation.