Among the almost 8,000 trees on the University of Arizona campus you’ll find a very special American Sycamore. Called the Moon Tree, it is appropriately located between the Kuiper Space Sciences Building and the Flandrau Planetarium.

The history of the tree began back in early 1971, when Apollo 14 lifted off from Kennedy Space Center.

“You watch this thing take off and it is just an amazing sight,” said Jack Roosa.

Jack Roosa was 10 years old when he watched his father, Stuart Roosa, and two other astronauts lift off into space. Packed away in Stuart Roosa’s personal kit were hundreds of tree seeds, part of a joint NASA-Forest Service project.

“He was a smokejumper in the Forest Service,” recalled Jack Roosa. “He loved the outdoors, loved the Forest Service and so he flew these seeds as a tribute to the Forest Service.”

Five days into the Apollo 14 mission, Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell walked on the Moon. Shepard famously hit a golf ball off the surface of the moon.

Meantime, Stuart Roosa circled above in the command module.

“He got asked the question a lot, ‘you’re the one that didn’t get to walk on the moon?'” said Jack Roosa. “His response was always, ‘hey look, you’re lucky just to get a seat on an Apollo mission’.”

On February 6, 1971, the crew of Apollo 14along with 94 pounds of moon rockssplashed down back on Earth. Also safely back from the moon: those 500 tree seeds.

“Up it went all the way to the moon, 33 times around the moon and all the way back,” Jack Roosa said.

That might have been where this story of the 500 moon tree seeds ends. But five years later, as part of the Bicentennial celebration, Stuart Roosa went around the country helping to plant the seeds that had grown into saplings.

“The U of A got one,” said Jack Roosa. “That’s because he attended the U of A.”

After one year at the University of Arizona in the 1950s, Stuart Roosa joined the Air Force, becoming a fighter pilot and then an astronaut. He came back to Tucson in 1976 to dedicate the UA Moon Tree.

“They planted these seeds at the White House, they planted them at Philadelphia Park near the Liberty Bell,” remembered Jack Roosa. “Obviously, the University of Arizona would be one of thoseand just all over the country.”

The University of Arizona’s Moon Tree has been flourishing next to the Flandrau Planetarium ever since. Although, a major freeze in Tucson in 2013 nearly did it in.

“It took out the top,” said Jack Roosa. “There’s a little bit of damage up there, but it seems to have recovered. It’s still thriving. For all of the miles put on it, it’s still looking pretty good.”

It is safe to say most students making their way down the UA Mall pass right by the Moon Tree without ever knowing its significance.

“They have to walk across the grass, start reading that, then they might figure it out,” Jack Roosa said referring to the Moon Tree sign.

Stuart Roosa went on to see his son Jack graduate from the Air Force Academy and become an F-16 fighter pilot before Stuart’s death in 1994. But Jack points out, his father’s legacy lives on through these Moon Trees.

“He had the foresight to know that these trees would outlast him, that would outlast everyone that was involved with the Apollo program, and now we’ve got a living legacy actually of that program.”

After following in his father’s footsteps becoming a fighter pilot, Jack Roosa moved to Tucson to work for Raytheon. His daughter graduated from the University of Arizona in 2011.