On September 23, 1999, after ten months of travel and $125 million, the Mars Climate Orbiter crash-landed on Mars for the most ridiculous and surreal reason imaginable: someone forgot to convert miles to kilometers.
This is the best example that, in space, any small detail can become a huge problem. And yes, by “minimal detail”, I mean the time, for example.
Because… What time is it on the Moon? In space, it is usual to calculate time based on Earth time. That is what we have been doing for the last century. The problem is that, until now, the volume of missions in deep space was small. I mean, it was manageable.
Right now, missions to the moon use deep-space antennas to keep systems in sync with Earth time. Something simple, basic and direct. Too simple, in fact.
In the coming years, with more than a dozen proposed lunar missions and the firm will to establish ourselves permanently on its surface, the Moon is going to become a hotbed of projects with different time zones. That is synonymous with problems.
And, of course, that worries ESA. After all, as the European Space Agency pointed out this week, the solution is simple: a standard time zone of its own. Something that would not only facilitate collaboration between different agencies, but (as with GPS systems on Earth) would allow very precise coordination and synchronization on the lunar surface.
The thing is, it’s not easy. In fact, there are a lot of drawbacks: How do we do it? Should it be tied to time on Earth or should it go it alone? If it goes by itself, which would be the best… how do we start it up? What technology do we use? Clocks on the moon gain about 56 microseconds per day (that is, they run slightly faster than clocks on Earth), and days at the equator are nearly a month long (29.5 days).
But, beyond that, there is a serious problem of governance. After all, who is in charge of managing that? It is worth remembering that there is no extra-planetary authority and, taking into account that the US and China do not even collaborate at the space level, designing a way to reach an agreement is going to be an almost impossible task.
Image | POT
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