On the left, shifting hormone levels over time. On the right, work (gray) and sleep (black) hours of NASA staff on Martian time gradually cycle around the clock.
Mars has an ever-so-slightly longer day than we do: 24 hours and 39 minutes, to be exact. To control solar-powered rovers like Phoenix and Curiosity, NASA teams must shift their sleeping cycles to match, and it’s a lot harder than it sounds: that fraction of an hour extra means that their sleep schedules creep every day, so while 1 pm might be the middle of the night one week, say, it will have become breakfast time by the next. Staying on Mars time is so grueling that staff for the Sojourner rover in 1997 bailed on the schedule a third of the way through the mission.
One private space company says it may claim a portion of the coveted Google Lunar X Prize in the near future–all it has to do is land a robot on the moon, travel roughly 1,640 feet, and then send data back to Earth.
The company, Astrobotic Technology, announced this week that it’s getting serious about the moon mission–it reserved a seat for its robot on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. Currently scheduled to launch in December 2013, the rocket will shuttle the company’s Red Rover to lunar orbit, where Astrobotic Technology hopes to complete the tasks set for it to claim $24 million of the $30 million prize.
So far, this is how the itinerary should play out: