A fragment of the apple tree said to have inspired Isaac Newton's theory of gravity will this week fly on space shuttle Atlantis's STS-132 mission to the International Space Station.
The Royal Society in London has entrusted the 10-cm chunk, along with a picture of Newton, to Brit-born astronaut Piers Sellers, as part of the Society’s 350th anniversary year celebrations.
Sellers enthused: “We’re delighted to take this piece of Sir Isaac Newton’s apple tree to orbit. While it’s up there, it will be experiencing no gravity, so if it had an apple on it, the apple wouldn’t fall. I’m pretty sure that Sir Isaac would have loved to see this, assuming he wasn’t spacesick, as it would have proved his first law of motion to be correct."
The famous tree is still going strong in the grounds of Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire, where in 1665 the sight of an apple falling from the "rare variety Flower of Kent" prompted Newton to formulate his gravitational theory.*
All being well, Newton's apple tree will blast off from Kennedy Space Center on 14 May at 18:20 GMT
Royal Society prez Martin Rees said: “We are both pleased and proud that such an extraordinary part of scientific history and important element of the Royal Society’s archive collection can make this historic trip into space.
"Upon their return the piece of tree and picture of Newton will form part of the History of the Royal Society exhibition that the Society will be holding later this year and will then be held as a permanent exhibit at the Society.” ®
* That's according to William Stukeley's 1752 biography Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton’s Life, which can be viewed online here.