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The European Space Agency wants the Moon to have its own time zone Story-level




CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida. (AP) — With more lunar missions than ever on the horizon, the European Space Agency wants to give the Moon its own time zone.

This week, the agency said space organizations around the world are considering the best way to keep time on the moon. The idea came about during a meeting in the Netherlands late last year, where participants agreed on the urgent need to establish “a common lunar reference time,” said Pietro Giordano, a navigation systems engineer for the space agency.

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

For now, a lunar 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 things easier for everyone, especially as more countries and even private companies target the moon and NASA prepares to send astronauts there.

NASA had to deal with the question of time while designing and building the International Space Station, almost 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 split the time difference between NASA and the Canadian Space Agency, and the other partner space programs in Russia, Japan and Europe.

The international team investigating lunar time is debating whether a single organization should set and maintain time on the moon, according to the European Space Agency.

There are also technical issues to consider. Clocks are ticking faster on the Moon than on Earth, gaining about 56 microseconds each day, the space agency said. To further complicate matters, ticking occurs differently on the lunar surface than it does in lunar orbit.

Perhaps most important, lunar time will have to be practical for astronauts there, noted the space agency’s Bernhard Hufenbach. NASA is preparing its first flight to the Moon with astronauts in more than half a century in 2024, with a moon landing in 2025.

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

Mars Standard Time, anyone?

___ The Associated Press Department of Health and Science receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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