A while back I wrote a piece about someone having landed on my blog looking for info on Eugene Cernan leaving his daughter's initials scratched in the lunar surface. At the time, because of similarities in the search terms, the comparative obscurity of the bit of trivia that it concerned, and the fact that one of the searches seemed to be predicated on an opinion that it was untrue, I was more concerned with the apparent scepticism than the trivia itself. (It turns out that it had been mentioned in a popular American sit-com, by the way.) It got me to thinking, though…
Us humans seem to be very strongly affected by such thoughts of a kind of vicarious personal immortality. For all intents and purposes, young Tracy Cernan, we seem to feel, has been, in a way, immortalised. Certainly, given the almost complete lack of erosion forces on the Moon, her initials will outlast many generations of us; but has she, really?
All that was left on the Moon was the initials, TC. How many Thomas Carters, Theresa Collinses and so on are there, or will there be, in the world? No date was left, no full name or picture to narrow the identification down, just two letters which a far-future discoverer might not even realise are the initials of a name, let alone have a clue whose. "Take care," she might mutter. "Take care of what?" Or she might be named Tabitha Chang, and merely think it kinda neat.
All of which matters not a jot, Gentle Reader. Even after typing the above paragraph, I still feel, as most people probably do, that Tracy Cernan is lucky not only in having a father who's done tremendous things, but in having been immortalised—and yes, illogical though it is, I do feel that she's been immortalised in a way—by having her name scratched into the substance of the Moon. It's highly illogical but, it seems, very human. Why should it matter at all? Why do we overlook the obvious problem of the ambiguity of it being just a couple of, when all's said and done, rather cryptic letters. And why should we feel that Ms Cernan is lucky to have been so vaguely identified in a place where hardly anyone will see it, perhaps until so far in the future that even her father's name might be a footnote in history?
I don't know, but it still makes me happy that he did it—and slightly envious of Tracy Cernan, to boot.
PS: In my original article, the one that attracted those first searchers, I mention that Cernan holds the Lunar land-speed record. Turns out that he's also, along with Thomas Stafford and John Young, a joint holder of the all-time speed record for any people anywhere. The Apollo 10 mission achieved a speed of 39,897 km/h during its return voyage, the fastest that a manned vehicle has ever travelled.