Washington: Space travellers are living out their lives away from the limelight, after having orbited the moon 34 times on board Apollo 14.
These voyagers are not astronauts. They`re `moon trees`, redwood, loblolly pine, sycamore, Douglas fir, and sweetgum trees sprouted from seeds that astronaut Stuart Roosa took to the moon and back 40 years ago.
"Hundreds of `moon trees` were distributed as seedlings," says Dave Williams of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration`s (NASA) Goddard Space Flight Centre. "But we don`t have systematic records showing where they all went."
The whereabouts of more than 50 are known. Many, now aging, reside in prime retirement locales like Florida, Arizona and California. A few are in the Washington DC area, according to a NASA statement.
Hundreds more are out there -- or at least, they were. And Williams wants to find them before it`s too late.
At least a dozen have died, including the loblolly pine at the White House and a New Orleans pine that was damaged by Hurricane Katrina and later removed.
To capture the vanishing historical record, Williams, a curator at the National Space Science Data Centre, has been tracking down the trees, dead or alive.
His sleuthing started in 1996, prompted by an e-mail from a third-grade teacher, Joan Goble, asking about a tree at the Camp Koch Girl Scout Camp in Cannelton. A simple sign nearby read `moon tree`.
"At the time, I had never heard of moon trees," Williams says. "The sign had a few clues, so I sent a message to the NASA history office and found more bits and pieces on the web. Then I got in touch with Stan Krugman and got more of the story."
Back then, biologists weren`t sure the seeds would germinate after such a trip. But the seeds did germinate, and the trees seemed to grow normally.