Moon tree lands at St. Peter School

May 30, 2024
St. Peter Catholic School Garden Club students, in Deland, plant a moon tree given the school by NASA, May 29, 2024. The loblolly seed that germinated into this sapling traveled around the Moon in 2022 on the Artemis 1 Mission. St. Peter is one of two schools in Florida to receive a moon tree and one of 50 tree recipients nationwide. (GLENDA MEEKINS)

DELAND  |  St. Peter Catholic School made history when it planted a “moon tree” from NASA.

Of 2,000 applicants, St. Peter is one of two schools in Florida to receive a tree. The loblolly seedling originated from a seed that traveled 270,000 to the moon and back on Artemis 1 in 2022.

“We learn about history in the classroom, but today you’re living history. This tree is going to be here for hundreds of years, generations to come, and you’re part of that today,” said Charlotte Funston, St. Peter principal, to the students gathered May 29, 2024.

Loblollies live between 100 and 300 years. Funston sees it as an appropriate legacy, especially since Bishop John Noonan is not only bishop of the Diocese of Orlando, but also bishop of the moon.

“We’re all part of the tree of life and the moon is part of our life too,” Bishop Noonan said. “I am so blessed to have it as part of our diocese.”

The fact there is now a “moon tree” on diocesan property is a reason to rejoice the principal added.

“We want our students to dream, to want something to work toward,” Funston said. “Having this is a symbol of what can be accomplished by mankind. Science is so fascinating, but there’s always a plan behind everything. Who else can be behind these miracles but God? We look at this tree, where the seeds made it to the moon and it’s thriving. God’s presence is in that.”

St. Peter Catholic School Garden Club students, in Deland, finalize the planting of a Moon Tree, received as part of the Artemis 1 Tree Project (GLENDA MEEKINS)

On May 29, members of the school’s Garden Club planted the tree. Seventh-grader Sophia said she and her friend Isabella joined the Garden Club because they thought “it would be fun to do something in our free time that kept the school very colorful and full of life.” They never imagined they would be planting a tree born of a seed that traveled to outer space.

“It’s spent four weeks in space, and we’re so excited to have it in our school,” Isabella said.

Members dug the hole and the school purchased a solar-powered rain barrel to collect water for the tree. The solar powered pump will draw water from the rain barrel to water the tree through a drip irrigation system.

“This could be a very big thing for humans because we are learning how to put plants and vegetation into space, which can help support life outside the earth,” Sophia said. “This can further our research on living on other planets or making other planets suitable for life in general.”

The idea displayed the enormity and complexity of God’s creation and how St. Peter students are good stewards of the earth.

The tree came to the campus after Heather Pattison’s third-grade daughter returned from Space Camp with a “moon tree” leaf she found at Kennedy Space Center. It was from a sycamore whose seed had traveled on the Apollo 14 mission in 1971. Curious, Pattison began to research and learned the school could apply and be granted a tree.

NASA’s website stated they chose “institutions based on criteria that evaluated their suitability to care for the various tree species and their ability to maximize educational opportunities around the life and growth of the tree in their communities.” Funston said because DeLand is a certified Tree City, she hopes the community at-large will also benefit from the planting for generations to come.

Funston plans to build upon previous trips by third-graders to the Kennedy Space Center and a visit by a NASA engineer to the school earlier this year, making students aware of other fields available to them in space science.

“It’s an opportunity to bring in knowledge of space and possibilities for students to realize what they can do with regards to college and career readiness,” Funston said. “I want to feed that enthusiasm and those opportunities.”

Funston recalled a former student who is currently a space lawyer, who deals mostly with international law and helps draft treaties governing the activities and exploration of outer space.

“We are preparing students for jobs that don’t exist now,” she said. She sees future expansion in space-related careers as NASA proceeds with their mars mission in the years ahead.

A plaque next to the tree will read: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the skies proclaims the work of His hands” (Ps 19.1).

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic Staff, May 30, 2024