Time shapes our lives and we can’t avoid it. We are influenced – and stressed out – by clocks and alarms, and even if we were to get rid of our tech and go back to nature we’d be at the mercy of the rotation of our planet on its axis and around the Sun. Socially, humanity has agreed on a universal time and a division of time zones, across the surface of our planet. But what happens when we are not on our planet?
On the international space station, which experiences 16 sunsets a day (making it complicated for Muslim astronauts, especially during Ramadan), the time zone is universal time (UT), which is the same as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).
By that logic, universal time is also the time on the Moon, but that is not a given. So far, there is no agreement on what time zone will be used when humans land back on it with Artemis III, or further down the line once one or more bases are established on the surface of the Moon. Currently, robotic missions are kept on time corresponding to certain time zones in the country of origin.
Using the Sun like we do here on Earth, even approximately, might not work. From sunrise to sunset on the Moon, there are 14.77 Earth days, so some subdivisions are necessary. A previous suggestion touted online was the idea of a Lunar Standard Time, where seconds, minutes, and hours were the same but 24 hours were called a cycle and 30 cycles were a full lunar day, which is roughly correct.
What Time Zone Did The Apollo Astronauts Use On The Moon?
The Apollo astronauts had a productive time on the Moon so why not copy what they did? Well, there is a little issue with this. The subheading above is a trick question. The astronauts were not using any time zone. Not UTC or the time in Florida from where they launched, or the same time zone as Houston where Mission Control was located. They used Ground Elapsed Time (GET) which is now known as Mission Elapsed Time. Time was counted as minutes, hours, and days from launch.
In those missions and subsequent ones like the Space Shuttle so much depended on activity happening at a certain time after lift-off, so it made more sense to use that instead of using a specific time zone.
But for a longer-duration mission on the Moon, this doesn’t really make sense anymore, so a solution is needed. The European Space Agency has put out a call for such a discussion. The need for a lunar surface time zone is not immediate for astronauts but the establishment of a communication system around the Moon will make a decision paramount.