The agency said this week that space organizations around the world are considering how best to track time on the moon. The idea came up during a meeting in the Netherlands late last year, where participants agreed on the urgent need to establish a “common lunar reference time,” said navigation systems engineer Pietro Giordano of the space agency.
“A joint international effort is underway to achieve this goal,” Giordano said in a statement.
At the moment, the lunar mission is carried out according to the time zone of the country that controls the spacecraft. An internationally recognized lunar time zone would make things easier for everyone, European officials said, especially as more countries aim for the moon.
NASA has had to grapple with the issue of timing in the design and construction of the International Space Station, which is fast approaching the 25th anniversary of the launch of its first part.
Although the space station does not have its own time zone, it operates on Coordinated Universal Time, or UTC, which is based on atomic clocks. This helps share the time difference between NASA and the Canadian Space Agency and other partner space programs in Russia, Japan and Europe.
According to the ESA, an international lunar time team is debating whether one organization should set and maintain time on the moon. There are also technical issues to consider.
The clocks on the Moon run faster than those on Earth, gaining about 56 microseconds each day, the space agency said. To complicate matters further, time runs differently on the lunar surface and lunar orbit.
Perhaps most importantly, lunar time should be practical for astronauts, said Bernhard Hufenbach of the space agency.
“That will be quite a challenge,” as each day lasts 29.5 Earth days, Hufenbach said in a statement. “But by establishing a working time system for the Moon, we can do the same for other planetary directions.”