Landing on Mars Really Messes with Your Work Schedule



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Landing on Mars Really Messes with Your Work Schedule

This photo is the first image of Mars taken by NASA's InSight Mars lander after its successful landing on the plains of Elysium Planitia on Nov. 26, 2018. The dust is seen in the image is a dust cover protecting the camera.

Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Time zones are always interplanetary time differences are even harder to keep track of, and now that NASA's Mars Inight lander has successfully landed on the Red Planet, that's precisely what mission staff members have to do.

A Martian day isn't too different from a terrestrial day – it's only about 37 minutes longer. But over time, all those minutes add up to offset a Martian day, called a sol, from Earthly schedules.

And it turns out that's a pain for the people who manage Martian robots like the Inland Lander – people like payload systems engineer Farah Alibay. The InSight team is not enough to change into the likes of the humans behind the Curiosity rover; instead, they work as one group, Alibay told Space.com in a video interview. [NASA’s InSight Mars Lander: Full Coverage]

The people on the team also want to work during the Martian night, while the spacecraft isn't working. So they signed on yesterday at 3 p.m. local time at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California (6 p.m. EST, 2300 GMT) for a shift lasting 12 hours, Alibay said before InSight landed. But if they always followed Martian's time, their schedule would drift 37 minutes from day to day, which is hard for people to manage.

"Doing that shift every day is just too hard for human bodies," Alibay said. So members of the team have worked out a compromise. "We are working every day, and then when they don't, we work every other day. There is plenty of science analysis to be done on the ground in between those days anyway, so it kind of works out. "

The mission's calendar will run in sols, with the landing on Nov. 26 Sol 0. marking (InSight's latest to last 709 total sols, or nearly two terrestrial years.) So, for Alibay and her colleagues, who have to navigate Earthly sunrises, errands and families while they work with the Insight lander , it's a relief not to be stuck on Mars time for all 709 of those sols.

Space.com managing editor Tariq Malik contributed reporting to this article. Email Meghan Bartels at [email protected] or follow her @meghanbartels. Follow us @Spacedotcom and Facebook. Original article on Space.com.

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