PALO ALTO (KPIX) — They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree but along the back of Peers Park in Palo Alto there is a grove of redwoods that have no doubt traveled a lot farther than you have.
On July 9th, 1985, the Space Shuttle Challenger ascended into the heavens. On board was Mission Specialist Loren Acton who took along some seeds from the 1,000 year old “El Palo Alto” giant redwood tree that inspired the logo for his hometown.
“I think he went into orbit around our planet…over 100 orbits around, the seeds experienced,” said David Dockter, a city Planning Arborist. “And when he came back down he gave ’em back to the Parks Dept. where he got the seeds originally from.”
They planted the seeds and they began growing. But six months later, Challenger lifted off again and this time there would be no happy return. So, in 1987, the city planted a grove of the young saplings in the park, as a memorial to the fallen shuttle. They don’t look very healthy now and the city’s arborist says they’ve always been a bit odd.
“The trees looked strange. They looked kind of bent…some looked, is it growing for the sun or not?” said Dockter. “Did outer space do something to these trees? We just don’t know.”
Originally, 20 trees were planted but soil conditions are not ideal and only 9 of them have survived. Dockter says they are probably coming to the end of their life cycles.
It’s been 30 years and the memorial plaque is barely legible. Most who come here have no idea that these trees once circled the earth 126 times and traveled nearly 3 million miles.
“It’s slowly sinking in,” said park visitor Bill Kraft . “I mean, that’s pretty incredible that those were seeds at one time, in space, brought back to Earth and planted here as a memorial.”
Kraft came here to walk his dog but when he heard the story of the trees, he couldn’t resist touching them.
“I’ve been around redwood trees for many, many years…uh, but I have not really touched something that has been from space. That’s pretty amazing,” he said.
There’s something about space that inspires us all. Even the trees spend their lives looking up at the heavens. But there are some here that have actually been there.