Moon Standard Time: NASA to Create Lunar Time Zone

NASA Initiates Development of Lunar Standard Time Zone

The White House officials have reportedly instructed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to start establishing Lunar Standard Time. Coordinating Lunar Time (LTC) aims to ensure synchronization among various lunar activities under the Artemis program.

Lunar Time Zone

Accurate timing is crucial for space travel. It ensures proper orbital maneuvers, assists in safe communication between spacecraft, and prevents positioning and mapping errors. In other words, without it, lunar exploration would become extremely complex.

Some of the challenges can be attributed to Einstein and his theory of relativity. Under different gravitational conditions, the experience of time varies, a phenomenon known as “time dilation.”

“The clocks we use on Earth would run at a different speed on the Moon,” said Kevin Coggins, NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation Director.

Clocks on the Moon run 58.7 microseconds faster than those on Earth every day. Although most people wouldn’t notice such a small difference, spacecraft certainly would.

Currently, spacecraft in low Earth orbit, such as GPS satellites and the International Space Station, use Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). However, even in these cases, periodic adjustments for time dilation are necessary; otherwise, the GPS system would lose accuracy and eventually fail.

Time Dilation

Back in the 1960s and 1970s during the Apollo missions, lunar landing tasks relied on Houston Time. Mission control served as the astronauts’ timekeeper – although astronauts used celestial navigation to ensure their alignment both in orbit and in time – which was sufficient for short-term lunar visits using just two spacecraft (a command module and a lunar lander).

However, with dozens of countries and private companies vying to participate in long-term lunar exploration under the Artemis program, a shared timing system will become essential.

Kevin Coggins explained, “Think of the atomic clocks at the U.S. Naval Observatory (located in Washington). They are the national heartbeat, keeping everything in sync. So, you would want a heartbeat on the Moon as well.”

NASA will require international cooperation to implement LTC. While UTC serves as the global standard for Earth time, managed by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, LTC may need approval from the same institution to ensure its international acceptance.

The memorandum proposing LTC from the White House acknowledges the need for an international agreement to achieve this goal. It suggests leveraging existing international bodies and the recently signed Artemis Accords by 36 countries to promote LTC, outlining guidelines for collaborative space exploration.

According to the memorandum, the LTC plan is expected to be completed by the end of 2026.

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