Bronx Community College receives an out-of-this-world gift from NASA

The faculty at BCC was over the moon as they planted their very own moon tree from NASA -- they named her Luna.
The faculty at BCC was over the moon as they planted their very own moon tree from NASA — they named her Luna.
Photo ET Rodriguez

Faculty at the Bronx Community College (BCC) were out of this world with excitement on Tuesday, May 7, as they gathered to plant their very own moon tree, straight from NASA themselves.

BCC faculty members stood on the campus lawn, each waiting their turn to dump a shovel-full of dirt into the moon tree’s new forever home.

“Live long and prosper,” said Noelle King, adjunct assistant professor in art and music as she took her turn.

Last year, King was on NASA’s website when she saw a call to community organizations to apply for a moon tree.

“I thought it was a really long shot but I did it anyway and then lo and behold, they sent me an email saying, ‘provisionally awarded’ and I almost fainted,” said King who also wanted to acknowledge that it was a group effort resulting in an exciting, new endeavor for the Bronx.

BCC interim principal, Milton Santiago ceremonially plants the moon tree given to the college by NASA as adjunct assistant professor, Noelle King holds the seedling in place.Photo ET Rodriguez

The American sycamore seedling delivered to BCC in late April was part of the first batch to be distributed by NASA to nearly 50 institutions across the country. Once delivered to the campus, Anthony Colon, BCC’s facility superintendent, cared for the baby moon tree as per the instructions.

“Water it every day, nurture it, talk to it, make it feel loved,” said Colon laughing. “It grew about two to four inches while it was in my office.”

The seedling, named Luna, was about 2 feet tall when she was placed into campus grounds on Tuesday. She is expected to be more than 100 feet tall and 14 feet wide.

The moon trees, called such because they orbited the moon, are a legacy project of an earlier mission. In 1971, Stuart A. Roosa, Command Module Pilot of Apollo 14 and former Forest Service smoke jumper, took hundreds of seeds with him into space. Upon his return, the seeds of loblolly pine, sweet gum, redwood, Douglas fir and sycamore, were distributed far and wide from California to Brooklyn.

“They brought the seeds back for service, distributed the seeds to the institutions and entities across the United States,” said Luis Montenegro, current BCC provost and former faculty member of the Engineering, Physics and Technology department. “The first trees planted by those entities and organizations noticed that there was no distinguishing difference between those trees and normal trees.”

While there was no difference in the Earth trees and the moon trees, it did ignite an interest in space exploration and gave NASA a great idea.

Left: Anthony Colon, facility superintendent for BCC and Jose Bisono put the finishing touches on their new moon tree.Photo ET Rodriguez
A close up of the American sycamore tree planted on BCC’s campus which is expected to be more than 100 feet tall and 14 feet wide.Photo ET Rodriguez

In 2022, they partnered with the U.S. Department of Forest Services and did it again with Artemis I, the first un-crewed flight in a series to “enable human exploration at the Moon and future missions to Mars.” The seeds returned to Earth after a journey of 270,000 miles and 25 days and are being distributed in batches announced this spring and again in the fall as well as in the spring and fall of 2025.

The project is part of NASA’s Next Gen STEM which works to engage youth in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) as well as conservation education. The proud owners of the moon trees will bear the responsibility of engaging public school students in their neighborhoods in grades K-12 and educator resources can be found on the NASA’s STEM Artemis moon trees page.

“It’s very fortuitous that we’re doing this this month because our commencement speaker is Dr Neil DeGrasse Tyson,” said BCC interim president, Milton Santiago.

BCC will celebrate its 64th commencement on Friday, May 31, with Luna watching from a distance, soaking up the sun.

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