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White House asks NASA to create a standard time zone for Moon

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There are 24 standard time zones in the world, each approximately 15 degrees of longitude apart. But the White House now wants the Moon to have its own time zone and has directed NASA to establish a unified time standard for the Earth’s only natural satellite and other celestial bodies, named Coordinated Lunar Time (CLT), by the end of 2026.

This move comes as various entities, including governments and private companies, increasingly venture into space.

The head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), according to a memo seen by Reuters, instructed the space agency to work with other parts of the US government to devise a plan by the end of 2026 for setting what it called a Coordinated Lunar Time (LTC).

Under its Artemis program, NASA is aiming to send astronaut missions to the Moon in the coming years and establish a scientific lunar base that could help set the stage for future missions to Mars. Dozens of companies, spacecraft, and countries are involved in the effort, Reuters reported.

Steve Welby, the OSTP Deputy Director for National Security, emphasised the necessity for celestial time standards to ensure safety and accuracy in space missions, reported AFP.

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“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,” Welby said in a statement.

What’s the need for a different time zone for Moon?

“The same clock that we have on Earth would move at a different rate on the moon,” Kevin Coggins, NASA’s space communications and navigation chief, said in an interview to Reuters.

“Think of the atomic clocks at the US Naval Observatory (in Washington). They’re the heartbeat of the nation, synchronising everything. You’re going to want a heartbeat on the moon,” Coggins said.

The aim, the White House says, is for Coordinate Lunar Time, or LTC, to be tied to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), currently the primary time standard used throughout the world to regulate time on Earth, reported AFP.

The features of Coordinated Lunar Time

The upcoming standard will prioritise four key aspects: alignment with UTC for traceability, accuracy suitable for precise navigation and scientific purposes, resilience to potential loss of communication with Earth, and adaptability to environments extending beyond cislunar space.

While the memorandum offered limited technical details for implementing a lunar time standard, the OSTP hinted at the possibility of incorporating components from the current terrestrial standard.

“It’s conceivable that Lunar Time could be established similarly to Terrestrial Time, utilising a network of atomic clocks on the Moon,” the White House statement said.

(Agencies)

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