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Home » Living on Two Planets: Mars Time: Nagin Cox at TEDxBeaconStreet (Transcript)

Living on Two Planets: Mars Time: Nagin Cox at TEDxBeaconStreet (Transcript)


So many of you have probably seen the movie “The Martian.” But for those of you who did not, it’s a movie about an astronaut who is stranded on Mars, and his efforts to stay alive until the Earth can send a rescue mission to bring him back to Earth.

Gladly, they do re-establish communication with the character, astronaut Watney, at some point so that he’s not as alone on Mars until he can be rescued. So while you’re watching the movie, or even if you haven’t, when you think about Mars, you’re probably thinking about how far away it is and how distant. And, what might not have occurred to you is, what are the logistics really like of working on another planet — of living on two planets when there are people on the Earth and there are rovers or people on Mars?

So think about when you have friends, families and co-workers in California, on the West Coast or in other parts of the world. When you’re trying to communicate with them, one of the things you probably first think about is: wait, what time is it in California? Will I wake them up? Is it OK to call? So even if you’re interacting with colleagues who are in Europe, you’re immediately thinking about: What does it take to coordinate communication when people are far away? So we don’t have people on Mars right now, but we do have rovers. And actually right now, on. Curiosity, it is 6:10 in the morning.

So, 6:10 in the morning on Mars. We have four rovers on Mars. The United States has put four rovers on Mars since the mid-1990s, and I have been privileged enough to work on three of them. So, I am a spacecraft engineer, a spacecraft operations engineer, at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Los Angeles, California. And these rovers are our robotic emissaries.

So, they are our eyes and our ears, and they see the planet for us until we can send people. So we learn how to operate on other planets through these rovers. So before we send people, we send robots. So the reason there’s a time difference on Mars right now, from the time that we’re at is because the Martian day is longer than the Earth day. Our Earth day is 24 hours, because that’s how long it takes the Earth to rotate, how long it takes to go around once.

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