McClellan proposes bill to standardize time – on the moon

Sam Brown | 7/4/2024, 6 p.m.
Congresswoman Jennifer McClellan introduced a bill last week to create standard time zones for the moon and other celestial bodies. …
Rep. McClellan

Congresswoman Jennifer McClellan introduced a bill last week to create standard time zones for the moon and other celestial bodies. The Celestial Time Standardization Act would direct NASA to submit a report to Congress describing a strategy for a lunar standard time within two years of the bill’s passage.

The idea of an act regarding time zones on the moon may seem far out to some. McClellan, however, believes that space exploration benefits all of humanity.

“There’s a lot of work that we do in space, everything from … real-time pollution forecasts, just like you have real-time weather forecasts,” McClellan said. “Space exploration has — and will continue to — lead to groundbreaking discoveries that benefit people here on Earth.”

McClellan said the act would create more accurate timing for communication with satellites and people stationed in space. She also believes that more precise timing could improve safety in emergency situations.

“It will have NASA set up a standard celestial time zone or measure so that as we continue manned spaceflight or space activity, we can have the most precise timing for folks working back on Earth to communicate with people or machines in space,” McClellan said.

The bill comes as the United States has returned its focus to space with plans such as the Artemis Program, a recommitment to manned space travel by the United States in pursuit of new scientific discoveries, established in 2017.

According to McClellan, the need for a celestial time standard will grow as the United States pursues more complex activities on celestial bodies such as the moon.

Time standardization would be necessary for a long-term presence on the moon because the differences in gravitational fields affect how time is observed, according to Jack Singal, an associate professor of physics at the University of Richmond.

On the moon, time moves slower by about 58 microseconds per year.

“If there is … a very precise clock on the Earth, an observer on the moon … will perceive more time elapsed between the ticks of that clock than an observer on the earth,” Singal said. “And that’s because the presence of a strong gravitational field affects how observers perceive clocks.”

McClellan said she believes the bill is an opportunity for bipartisan support in Congress. According to McClellan’s staff, while no vote has been officially scheduled, the NASA Reauthorization Act on July 10 may provide an opening to consider the legislation.