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NASA told to create time standard for a lunar clock

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Discrepancies in time also could lead to errors in mapping and locating positions on or orbiting the moon, the official said.

“Imagine if the world wasn’t syncing their clocks to the same time – how disruptive that might be and how challenging everyday things become,” the official said.

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On Earth, most clocks and time zones are based on Coordinated Universal Time, or UCT. This internationally recognised standard relies on a vast global network of atomic clocks placed in different locations around the world. They measure changes in the state of atoms and generate an average that ultimately makes up a precise time.

Deployment of atomic clocks on the lunar surface may be needed, according to the OSTP official.

The official also said that as commercial activities expand to the moon, a unified time standard would be essential for coordinating operations, ensuring the reliability of transactions and managing the logistics of lunar commerce.

NASA in January said it has scheduled for September 2026 its first astronaut lunar landing since the end of the Apollo program in the 1970s, with a mission flying four astronauts around the moon and back scheduled for September 2025.

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While the United States is the only country to have put astronauts on the moon, others have lunar ambitions. Countries have their eyes on potential mineral resources on the moon, and lunar bases could help support future crewed missions to Mars and elsewhere.

China said last year it aims to put its first astronauts on the moon by 2030. Japan in January became the fifth country to put a spacecraft on the moon. India last year became the first country to land a spacecraft near the unexplored lunar south pole, and it has announced plans to send an astronaut to the moon by 2040.

“US leadership in defining a suitable standard – one that achieves the accuracy and resilience required for operating in the challenging lunar environment – will benefit all spacefaring nations,” the OSTP memo stated.

Defining how to implement Coordinated Lunar Time will require international agreements, the memo said, through “existing standards bodies” and among the 36 nations that have signed a pact called the Artemis Accords involving how countries act in space and on the moon. China and Russia, the two main US rivals in space, have not signed the Artemis Accords.

Coordinated Universal Time might influence how Coordinated Lunar Time is implemented, the OSTP official said. The UN’s International Telecommunication Union defines Coordinated Universal Time as an international standard.

Reuters

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