Newton’s Apple Tree Headed For Space

May 8, 2010

The famous apple tree that inspired Sir Isaac Newton to discover the laws of gravity is about to embark on a journey that would surely have turned Newton’s world upside-down, according to the Associated Press (AP).

When the space shuttle Atlantis lifts off next week, it will carry a 4-inch sliver of the tree from which an apple fell almost 350 years ago.

Piers Sellers, a British-born astronaut, is flying the slice of tree for The Royal Society of London. “I’ll take it up into orbit and let it float around a bit, which will confuse Isaac,” Sellers told AP earlier this week.

During Sellers’ last mission, in 2006, he carried a gold medal that the society later presented to physicist Stephen Hawking.

The piece of tree the society offered is from the actual tree, “from the one that he was looking at when the apple fell down and he got the idea” for the laws of gravity, Sellers expressed. “It’s his personal apple tree … that’s really something, isn’t it?”

The president of The Royal Society assured Sellers the piece is authentic. “Written on it in very old 18th century lettering is I-S-dot-Newton,” Sellers told reporters. “He had a very nice hand. So I think it is his tree.”

Sellers will return the tree sliver to the society following the 12-day mission.

The Royal Society is celebrating its 350th year. As part of its celebration, the society made available online in January the 18th century document detailing Newton’s account of the famous apple incident, which occurred in the mid-1660s.

Newton, a physicist, mathematician, and astronomer, among other things, was born in 1643 in Lincolnshire, England — the apparent site of the famous apple tree. He described his theories on gravity in his published book “Principia” in 1687. He died in 1727.

Sellers, 55, became an astronaut in 1996. He was born in Sussex, England and moved to the US where he became an American citizen in 1981. The upcoming Atlantis flight will be his third space shuttle mission.

Sellers also is taking along a flag for the 2012 Olympics, to be held in London.

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