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Tree seeds that flew around the moon are now being planted across the U.S.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

In late 2022, a NASA flight around the moon carried a variety of tree seeds. After their time in space, they returned to Earth. And now, the hope is that they will become moon trees. Troy, Ala., is one of the first places to get one. Here's Troy Public Radio's Joey Hudson.

JOEY HUDSON, BYLINE: A loblolly pine was planted recently at Troy University's arboretum.

(APPLAUSE)

ALVIN DIAMOND: I want to thank everybody for coming today and want to invite y'all to come back out, follow the process of our moon tree as it grows.

HUDSON: A group of children helped plant the two-foot seedling. Seven-year-old Finn Lee McCall was eager to share what he learned about growth.

FINN LEE MCCALL: That moon tree will actually probably - if it stays in shape - it will probably be taller than me in two years.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Holy cow.

HUDSON: Wow.

Back when it was a seed, the loblolly pine traveled thousands of miles around the moon. And this was just one seed among about 2,000 - sycamores, sweet gums, Douglas firs, giant sequoias and, of course, other loblolly pines.

KELLY MCCARTHY: We sent this package of ravioli-shaped, vacuum-sealed seeds aboard the Orion capsule to journey around the moon as part of the Artemis 1 test flight.

HUDSON: That's Kelly McCarthy with NASA's Office of STEM Engagement. She says they wanted to understand how space travel affects biological organisms like seeds.

MCCARTHY: There was a very significant preparation process to make sure they were completely dry and that there would be no moisture or potential. They tried to protect the seeds as much as possible from any impacts related to heat.

HUDSON: The mission was a success. After about four weeks, the seeds returned to Earth and were tested for radiation levels and genetic variants. And then the seeds became seedlings to be planted in communities around the country, like here at Troy University.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDS CHIRPING)

DIAMOND: Yeah.

HUDSON: The arboretum's director, Alvin Diamond, says these moon trees can inspire kids.

DIAMOND: For young people participating in planting this tree, maybe that will get them to think about, hey, I want to be a scientist when I grow up, or I want to be an astronaut when I grow up.

HUDSON: NASA is rolling out moon tree plantings like this one throughout next year. For NPR News, I'm Joey Hudson in Troy, Ala. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Joey Hudson