White House Instructs NASA to Create a New Time Zone for the Moon

The White House has instructed NASA to create a new time zone for the moon by the end of the 2026. The American Space Agency is working towards landing its first Artemis astronauts near the lunar south pole on September 2026. Hence, the White House saw the need to have a unique lunar time zone as the desire to live on the moon has continued to rise in recent times.

Keep in mind that NASA is aiming at establishing permanent human presence on the moon in a few years to come. Having a lunar time zone will help the agency achieve its goal of colonizing the lunar terrains in this century. An April 2 memo released by White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) revealed that the new lunar standard time zone will be called “Coordinated Lunar Time (LTC).”

It will officially be part of a broader effort to “establish time standards at and around celestial bodies other than Earth,” the memo noted. However, the White House did not specify whether the moon would have multiple time zones just like Earth.

“U.S. leadership in defining a suitable standard — one that achieves the accuracy and resilience required for operating in the challenging lunar environment — will benefit all spacefaring nations,” the memo stated.

Since there is absolutely lower gravity on the moon than on our home planet, time tend to move slightly faster on the lunar surface. To be specific time moves 58.7 microseconds faster every day on the moon. The slight time difference on the moon and Earth would make it challenging for future space missions to moon to accurately communicated with each other. The time difference on both celestial bodies also pose other issues including accurately tracking crew positions, satellite and others.

“As NASA, private companies and space agencies around the world launch missions to the moon, Mars and beyond, it’s important that we establish celestial time standards for safety and accuracy,” Steve Welby, the OSTP deputy director for national security, said in a statement.

Time is measured on Earth based on numerous atomic clocks positioned at various locations across our planet. NASA may deploy similar technique in positioning atomic clocks around the moon for effective lunar timekeeping.

“An atomic clock on the moon will tick at a different rate than a clock on Earth,” Kevin Coggins, manager of NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation Program, told the Guardian. “It makes sense that when you go to another body, like the moon or Mars, that each one gets its own heartbeat.”

Currently, astronauts aboard the International Space Station uses Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) for their time keeping. For space missions, NASA prefer to use “Spacecraft Event Time” to document major mission events such as engine burns or science observations

NASA revealed that “experts throughout the international community are discussing an approach to provide recommendations to the International Astronomical Union for lunar reference frame and time systems.” The approach NASA is following will effectively create the “Coordinated Lunar Time (LTC)” on the lunar surface.

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