This is a moment of astronautical milestones. In December, we commemorated the 50th anniversary of Apollo 8, when three American astronauts took the first picture of “earthrise” while reading aloud from the story of creation in Genesis. This was a triumphant moment for America, a theological rejoinder to the Khrushchev chortle in 1961 that “Gagarin flew into space but didn’t see any god there.” In 2019, we will mark half a century since Neil Armstrong took “one small step for man.” And as we prepare to commemorate the first man on the moon, we would do well to ponder the last (as yet).
In 1972, Gene Cernan prepared to leave the lunar surface and clamber back aboard Apollo 17. No further moon landing was planned. Suddenly, before boarding, Cernan paused, bent over, and etched the letters “TDC” in the moon dust at his feet. These are the initials of his daughter, Tracy Dawn Cernan. Because there is no weather on the moon, Tracy’s initials will be on the lunar surface for millions of years, or, as Cernan put it, the letters will be there “forever, however long forever is.”