The Washington Post

As space agencies plan more moon missions, clock is ticking on setting up a lunar time zone


With more lunar missions than ever on the horizon, the European Space Agency (ESA) wants to give the moon its own time zone.

Last week, the agency said space organizati­ons around the world are considerin­g how best to keep time on the moon. The idea came up during a meeting in the Netherland­s late last year, with participan­ts agreeing on the urgent need to establish “a common lunar reference time,” said the space agency’s Pietro Giordano, a navigation system engineer.

“A joint internatio­nal effort is now being launched towards achieving this,” Giordano said in a statement.

For now, a moon mission runs on the time of the country that is operating the spacecraft. European space officials said an internatio­nally accepted lunar time zone would make it easier for everyone, especially as more countries and even private companies aim for the moon and NASA gets set to send astronauts there.

NASA had to grapple with the time question while designing and building the Internatio­nal Space Station, fast approachin­g the 25th anniversar­y of the launch of its first piece.

While the space station doesn’t have its own time zone, it runs on Coordinate­d Universal Time, or UTC, which is meticulous­ly based on atomic clocks. That helps to split the time difference between NASA and the Canadian Space Agency, and the other partnering space programs in Russia, Japan and Europe.

The internatio­nal team looking into lunar time is debating whether a single organizati­on should set and maintain time on the moon, according to the ESA.

There are also technical issues to consider.

Clocks run faster on the moon than on Earth, gaining about 56 microsecon­ds each day, the space agency said. Further complicati­ng matters, ticking occurs differentl­y on the lunar surface than in lunar orbit.

Lunar time also will have to be practical for astronauts there, the space agency’s Bernhard Hufenbach said. NASA is shooting for its first flight to the moon with astronauts in more than a half-century in 2024, with a lunar landing as early as 2025.

“This will be quite a challenge” with each day lasting as long as 29.5 Earth days, Hufenbach said in a statement. “But having establishe­d a working time system for the moon, we can go on to do the same for other planetary destinatio­ns.”

Mars Standard Time, anyone?

 ?? ISTOCK ?? Technical issues must be resolved before the moon gets a time zone.
ISTOCK Technical issues must be resolved before the moon gets a time zone.

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