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NASA tasked with creating a time zone for the moon

The White House has asked NASA to create a new time zone for the moon.

Arati Prabhakar, the head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), said in a letter Tuesday that the office wants NASA to establish a unified standard time for the moon and “celestial bodies other than Earth” to create a standard for timekeeping.

Coordinated Lunar Time, LTC, is intended to aid future space missions that require precise navigation and science. NASA must develop the time zone by the end of 2026, Prabhakar said in the letter.

Prabhakar said the U.S. will work with allies and partners to return humans to the moon “and develop capabilities to enable an enduring presence.” The U.S. anticipates that “many other actors,” including other governments and private companies, will be sending spacecraft to the moon.

The new time zone is “fundamental to the scientific discovery, economic development, and international collaboration.” Standardizing time for the moon would also make space flight operations safer, according to the letter.

Prabhakar acknowledged that there are “important implications” that rise from creating a standard time for the moon, since time moves differently on the moon. Because it has less gravity than Earth, time moves 58.7 microseconds quicker there.

“Due to general and special relativity, the length of a second defined on Earth will appear distorted to an observer under different gravitational conditions, or to an observer moving at a high relative velocity,” Prabhakar wrote in the letter.

For safe navigation, cislunar space — the area within the moon’s orbit — must have a “consistent definition of time among users,” according to the letter.

Travel to the moon is expected to increase, so docking or landing a spacecraft on the moon will require “greater accuracy than current methods allow,” Prabhakar said.

The Odysseus lunar lander made a historic moon landing in February, becoming the first private spacecraft to do so and marking the first U.S. moon landing in more than 50 years. It cut its mission short after toppling over, but the launch was still met with excitement for what the future of space travel could hold.

NASA has plans to send astronauts around the moon in September 2025, and astronauts are expected to touch down on the moon’s South Pole in September 2026.

“Exploration of Cislunar space opens a new sphere of human activity and offers opportunities to advance scientific understanding, exploration, and economic growth,” Prabhakar said in the letter, later adding “we are grateful to those across the community who have contributed to date, and to those who continue to share their valuable knowledge to shape our collective understanding of this topic as we move forward.

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