Thursday, July 31, 2008

Life on Mars Time: Like Traveling Three Time Zones Every Two Days


In a small corner of the world (Tucson, Arizona), a team of scientists on NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander Mission lives on Mars time. Life has certainly been unusual since the spacecraft landed two months ago. When the Mars Lander shuts down during the Martian night, mission controllers are awake analyzing data; with a typical workday ending sometime around 3 or 4am on Earth, at the dawn of the Martian day when the Lander wakes up.

As one can imagine, this schedule can eventually take its toll on the body, especially considering the fact that corresponding orbital motions of Mars and the Earth mean that start of the Martian day is always changing with respect to Earth time, in addition to the Martian day being 40 minutes longer than Earth's. Whew!

That's why 18 Phoenix team members living the Martian life are being monitored by a group of physiologists, who will study changes in the body that might develop from such an out-of-whack schedule. The results could help ease the fatigue of future astronauts on Mars missions.

They also provide helpful adjustment tools, like the blue LED light box scientist Morten Bo Madsen (pictured) sits next to as he works on the Lander's robotic arm camera. Previous research has shown that bright light, particularly short-wavelength or blue light can perk sleepyheads up as good as any jolt of coffee.

But the end of this bizarre yet intriguing ( and personally I think it sounds fun) way of life is near- Phoenix's main mission terminates in August.

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