Newton's Space Saplings

Partnership Manager Jannette Warrener, Jeremy Curtis of the UK Space Agency and Dallas Campbell from the BBC's Big Bang programme with pips from Isaac Newton's apple tree at Woolsthorpe Manor, Lincolnshire .

Pips from Isaac Newton’s apple tree were blasted into space with British Astronaut Tim Peake. Those pips are now saplings and the search to find them new homes is well underway.

In 2015 apple pips from our iconic tree were taken on the Principia mission by British astronaut, Tim Peake to the International Space Station . The pips then spent six months floating in micro gravity as part of the ‘Pips in Space’ project. 

On their return from space in 2016, the well-travelled pips went to Wakehurst Place, part of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, where they spent 90 days sitting on a bed of agar jelly at 5 C to simulate the winter cold needed to trigger germination.  Spring arrived for them in May 2017 when they were warmed to 15 C and the young seedlings started to emerge. They have now been nurtured into ‘space saplings’.

The UK Space Agency, the National Trust and Kew, who worked together on the project, teamed up with South Kesteven District Council (SKDC) in Lincolnshire to launch a bidding process to find partners to host the trees and that share a commitment to inspire future Newtons.

That process is nearly over as organisations have bid for one of the eight remarkable saplings, explaining how they will give them space to grow, engage new audiences and promote curiosity. Judging will take place in Autumn 2019 with the announcement date of the winners to be confirmed.

Jeremy Curtis, Head of Education and Skills at the UK Space Agency, said: “Now we need to find good homes for them across the UK to help as many people as possible find out about the intertwined stories of Newton, gravity, physics, space travel and horticulture. Maybe one of the trees will one day inspire the next Newton!”

Our tree, which still bears fruit every year, was said to have prompted Newton to question why the apple fell, leading to his world-changing work around gravity.  His landmark work, Principia Mathematica, was chosen as the name of Tim Peake’s mission to acknowledge the debt of all space travellers to Newton’s work.

Jannette Warrener, Partnerships Manager, Woolsthorpe Manor, said: “As partners of the UK Space Agency and The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the National Trust is looking forward to seeing how the space saplings might inspire the next generation of future Newtons. Newton’s passion for scientific endeavour and study never waned. At Woolsthorpe Manor we want to keep that passion for scientific discovery alive and we would like these saplings, as they mature and grow, to light a fire of discovery in the next generation of scientists.”

Dr Anne Visscher, Career Development Fellow, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, said: “We are delighted to be part of such an important project. The seeds taken from the apple tree that inspired Newton have been on an amazing journey. Since their return they have been grown and monitored at Kew’s Wakehurst site in Sussex where we will continue to care for them until they find new homes around the country to tell the story of Newton, space travel and seed science.”

The project team visiting the Space Saplings at Wakehurst
Project Team with Space Sapling at Wakehurst 2018
The project team visiting the Space Saplings at Wakehurst