3 Martian Tips for Contextualization

Lessons from the NASA team who manages the Mars rover.

What time is it on Mars?

I was obsessed with space as a child. In fact, I still have my old books about space, and now my children are reading them! I can assure you that it was their decision, not mine. Going along the theme of loving space, I was naturally into Star Wars, but it was Star Trek that won the day for me. Now I’m definitely revealing my inner nerd, but I even had a manual that talked about all the intricate systems on the USS Enterprise.

I recently watched a TED Talk from Nagin Cox, a Spacecraft Operations Engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. In it, she explained what life on Mars was like—she even referred to herself as a Martian! Now before you ask Google, Siri, or Alexa when humans first landed on Mars, let me clarify. She’s a Martian because she works on the team that controls the four rovers that the U.S. has placed on Mars since the mid-90s.

When the rovers are “sleeping” at night—in order to recharge their batteries—Cox and her team are hard at work creating the rover’s program for the next day. So essentially, Cox works the night shift.

Now unlike individuals who work the graveyard shift from 11 pm – 7 am here on Earth, things are a bit different on Mars. This is because a day on Mars is 40 minutes longer than a day on Earth. In other words, it takes 24 hours and 40 minutes for Mars to rotate once. Not only that, but a year on Mars is almost twice as long as a year on Earth.

While this might sound like a minute detail (pun intended), this has actually created quite a couple of issues for Cox and her Martian colleagues, such as:

  • When you say the words yesterday, today, and tomorrow, how do you know if someone is referring to yesterday, today, and tomorrow on Earth time or Martian time?

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