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NASA to develop a time standard for the moon

The moon rises behind the Home Place clock tower in Prattville, Ala. in 2013. Associated Press/Photo by Dave Martin, file

NASA to develop a time standard for the moon

The White House on Tuesday ordered NASA to devise a clock that keeps time for celestial bodies other than Earth. The order instructs NASA and other relevant agencies to figure out timing standardization for the moon, called Coordinated Lunar Time, by the end of 2026.

What are the requirements for this extraterrestrial time system? The new time system must be traceable to Coordinated Universal Time—which the United States already keeps at the U.S. Naval Observatory and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. It must also be accurate enough for navigation while in space and resilient to losing contact with Earth. Additionally, astronauts must be able to use it as a reliable reference point when comparing it to planets other than Earth and the moon.

What’s the point of a clock like that? The White House’s order said the U.S. government plans to work with allies to transport humans to the moon again and acknowledged that private corporations and governments will also seek to do the same. A new time standard for the moon and other planets will likely assist those efforts.

The White House also said the new time system will help achieve the objectives laid out by the Office of Science and Technology Policy, or OSTP, in the National Cislunar Science & Technology Strategy. That strategy document outlines the U.S. government’s plans to create an ecosystem encompassing the moon and the Earth.

Why is the U.S. trying to build that kind of ecosystem? The OSTP says such an ecosystem would help advance space-focused technology and better support exploration of other parts of the solar system, such as Mars. It also said U.S. leadership in the construction of that ecosystem will ensure that such developments are responsible, peaceful, and sustainable.

Dig deeper: Read my report on how the United States tries to better integrate private businesses’ space initiatives into its national security structure.

Josh Schumacher

Josh is a breaking news reporter for WORLD. He’s a graduate of World Journalism Institute and Patrick Henry College.

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