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What time is it on Mars?

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    So many of you have probably seen
    the movie "The Martian."
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    But for those of you who did not,
    it's a movie about an astronaut
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    who is stranded on Mars,
    and his efforts to stay alive
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    until the Earth can send a rescue mission
    to bring him back to Earth.
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    Gladly, they do re-establish communication
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    with the character,
    astronaut Watney, at some point
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    so that he's not as alone
    on Mars until he can be rescued.
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    So while you're watching the movie,
    or even if you haven't,
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    when you think about Mars,
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    you're probably thinking about
    how far away it is and how distant.
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    And, what might not
    have occurred to you is,
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    what are the logistics really like
    of working on another planet --
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    of living on two planets
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    when there are people on the Earth
    and there are rovers or people on Mars?
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    So think about when you have friends,
    families and co-workers
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    in California, on the West Coast
    or in other parts of the world.
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    When you're trying
    to communicate with them,
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    one of the things
    you probably first think about is:
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    wait, what time is it in California?
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    Will I wake them up? Is it OK to call?
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    So even if you're interacting
    with colleagues who are in Europe,
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    you're immediately thinking about:
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    What does it take to coordinate
    communication when people are far away?
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    So we don't have people on Mars
    right now, but we do have rovers.
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    And actually right now, on Curiosity,
    it is 6:10 in the morning.
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    So, 6:10 in the morning on Mars.
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    We have four rovers on Mars.
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    The United States has put four rovers
    on Mars since the mid-1990s,
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    and I have been privileged enough
    to work on three of them.
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    So, I am a spacecraft engineer,
    a spacecraft operations engineer,
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    at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
    in Los Angeles, California.
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    And these rovers
    are our robotic emissaries.
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    So, they are our eyes and our ears,
    and they see the planet for us
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    until we can send people.
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    So we learn how to operate
    on other planets through these rovers.
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    So before we send people, we send robots.
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    So the reason there's a time difference
    on Mars right now,
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    from the time that we're at
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    is because the Martian day
    is longer than the Earth day.
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    Our Earth day is 24 hours,
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    because that's how long it takes
    the Earth to rotate,
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    how long it takes to go around once.
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    So our day is 24 hours.
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    It takes Mars 24 hours and approximately
    40 minutes to rotate once.
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    So that means that the Martian day
    is 40 minutes longer than the Earth day.
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    So teams of people who are operating
    the rovers on Mars, like this one,
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    what we are doing is we are living
    on Earth, but working on Mars.
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    So we have to think as if we are actually
    on Mars with the rover.
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    Our job, the job of this team,
    of which I'm a part of,
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    is to send commands to the rover
    to tell it what to do the next day.
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    To tell it to drive or drill
    or tell her whatever she's supposed to do.
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    So while she's sleeping --
    and the rover does sleep at night
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    because she needs
    to recharge her batteries
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    and she needs to weather
    the cold Martian night.
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    And so she sleeps.
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    So while she sleeps, we work
    on her program for the next day.
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    So I work the Martian night shift.
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    (Laughter)
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    So in order to come to work on the Earth
    at the same time every day on Mars --
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    like, let's say I need to be
    at work at 5:00 p.m.,
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    this team needs to be at work
    at 5:00 p.m. Mars time every day,
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    then we have to come to work
    on the Earth 40 minutes later every day,
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    in order to stay in sync with Mars.
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    That's like moving a time zone every day.
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    So one day you come in at 8:00,
    the next day 40 minutes later at 8:40,
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    the next day 40 minutes later at 9:20,
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    the next day at 10:00.
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    So you keep moving 40 minutes every day,
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    until soon you're coming to work
    in the middle of the night --
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    the middle of the Earth night.
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    Right? So you can imagine
    how confusing that is.
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    Hence, the Mars watch.
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    (Laughter)
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    This weights in this watch
    have been mechanically adjusted
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    so that it runs more slowly.
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    Right? And we didn't start out --
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    I got this watch in 2004
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    when Spirit and Opportunity,
    the rovers back then.
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    We didn't start out thinking
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    that we were going to need Mars watches.
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    Right? We thought, OK,
    we'll just have the time on our computers
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    and on the mission control screens,
    and that would be enough.
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    Yeah, not so much.
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    Because we weren't just
    working on Mars time,
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    we were actually living on Mars time.
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    And we got just instantaneously confused
    about what time it was.
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    So you really needed something
    on your wrist to tell you:
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    What time is it on the Earth?
    What time is it on Mars?
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    And it wasn't just the time on Mars
    that was confusing;
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    we also needed to be able
    to talk to each other about it.
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    So a "sol" is a Martian day --
    again, 24 hours and 40 minutes.
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    So when we're talking about something
    that's happening on the Earth,
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    we will say, today.
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    So, for Mars, we say, "tosol."
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    (Laughter)
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    Yesterday became "yestersol" for Mars.
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    Again, we didn't start out thinking,
    "Oh, let's invent a language."
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    It was just very confusing.
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    I remember somebody
    walked up to me and said,
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    "I would like to do this activity
    on the vehicle tomorrow, on the rover."
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    And I said, "Tomorrow, tomorrow,
    or Mars, tomorrow?"
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    We started this terminology because
    we needed a way to talk to each other.
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    (Laughter)
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    Tomorrow became "nextersol" or "solorrow."
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    Because people have different preferences
    for the words they use.
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    Some of you might say "soda"
    and some of you might say "pop."
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    So we have people who say
    "nextersol" or "solorrow."
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    And then something that I noticed after
    a few years of working on these missions,
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    was that the people who work
    on the rovers, we say "tosol."
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    The people who work on the
    landed missions that don't rove around,
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    they say "tosoul."
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    So I could actually tell what mission
    you worked on from your Martian accent.
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    (Laughter)
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    So we have the watches and the language,
    and you're detecting a theme here, right?
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    So that we don't get confused.
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    But even the Earth daylight
    could confuse us.
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    If you think that right now,
    you've come to work
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    and it's the middle of the Martian night
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    and there's light streaming in
    from the windows
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    that's going to be confusing as well.
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    So you can see from
    this image of the control room
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    that all of the blinds are down.
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    So that there's no light to distract us.
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    The blinds went down all over the building
    about a week before landing,
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    and they didn't go up
    until we went off Mars time.
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    So this also works
    for the house, for at home.
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    I've been on Mars time three times,
    and my husband is like,
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    OK, we're getting ready for Mars time.
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    And so he'll put foil all over the windows
    and dark curtains and shades
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    because it also affects your families.
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    And so here I was living in kind of
    this darkened environment, but so was he.
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    And he'd gotten used to it.
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    But then I would get these plaintive
    emails from him when he was at work.
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    Should I come home? Are you awake?
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    What time is it on Mars?
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    And I decided, OK,
    so he needs a Mars watch.
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    (Laughter)
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    But of course, it's 2016,
    so there's an app for that.
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    (Laughter)
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    So now instead of the watches,
    we can also use our phones.
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    But the impact on families
    was just across the board;
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    it wasn't just those of us
    who were working on the rovers
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    but our families as well.
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    This is David Oh,
    one of our flight directors,
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    and he's at the beach in Los Angeles
    with his family at 1:00 in the morning.
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    (Laughter)
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    So because we landed in August
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    and his kids didn't have to go back
    to school until September,
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    they actually went on to Mars time
    with him for one month.
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    They got up 40 minutes later every day.
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    And they were on dad's work schedule.
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    So they lived on Mars time for a month
    and had these great adventures,
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    like going bowling
    in the middle of the night
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    or going to the beach.
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    And one of the things
    that we all discovered
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    is you can get anywhere in Los Angeles
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    at 3:00 in the morning
    when there's no traffic.
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    (Laughter)
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    So we would get off work,
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    and we didn't want to go home
    and bother our families,
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    and we were hungry, so instead of
    going locally to eat something,
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    we'd go, "Wait, there's this great
    all-night deli in Long Beach,
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    and we can get there in 10 minutes!"
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    So we would drive down --
    it was like the 60s, no traffic.
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    We would drive down there,
    and the restaurant owners would go,
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    "Who are you people?
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    And why are you at my restaurant
    at 3:00 in the morning?"
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    So they came to realize
    that there were these packs of Martians,
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    roaming the LA freeways,
    in the middle of the night --
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    in the middle of the Earth night.
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    And we did actually
    start calling ourselves Martians.
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    So those of us who were on Mars time
    would refer to ourselves as Martians,
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    and everyone else as Earthlings.
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    (Laughter)
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    And that's because when you're moving
    a time-zone every day,
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    you start to really feel separated
    from everyone else.
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    You're literally in your own world.
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    So I have this button on that says,
    "I survived Mars time. Sol 0-90."
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    And there's a picture of it
    up on the screen.
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    So the reason we got these buttons
    is because we work on Mars time
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    in order to be as efficient as possible
    with the rover on Mars,
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    to make the best use of our time.
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    But we don't stay on Mars time
    for more than three to four months.
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    Eventually, we'll move to a modified Mars
    time, which is what we're working now.
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    And that's because it's hard on
    your bodies, it's hard on your families.
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    In fact, there were sleep researchers
    who actually were studying us
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    because it was so unusual for humans
    to try to extend their day.
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    And they had about 30 of us
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    that they would do
    sleep deprivation experiments on.
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    So I would come in and take the test
    and I fell asleep in each one.
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    And that was because, again,
    this eventually becomes hard on your body.
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    Even though it was a blast.
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    It was a huge bonding experience
    with the other members on the team,
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    but it is difficult to sustain.
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    So these rover missions are our first
    steps out into the solar system.
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    We are learning how to live
    on more than one planet.
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    We are changing our perspective
    to become multi-planetary.
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    So the next time you see
    a Star Wars movie,
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    and there are people going
    from the Dagobah system to Tatooine,
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    think about what it really means to have
    people spread out so far.
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    What it means in terms
    of the distances between them,
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    how they will start to feel
    separate from each other
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    and just the logistics of the time.
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    We have not sent people
    to Mars yet, but we hope to.
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    And between companies like SpaceX and NASA
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    and all of the international
    space agencies of the world,
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    we hope to do that
    in the next few decades.
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    So soon we will have people on Mars,
    and we truly will be multi-planetary.
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    And the young boy or the young girl
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    who will be going to Mars could be
    in this audience or listening today.
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    I have wanted to work at JPL
    on these missions since I was 14 years old
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    and I am privileged to be a part of it.
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    And this is a remarkable time
    in the space program,
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    and we are all in this journey together.
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    So the next time you think
    you don't have enough time in your day,
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    just remember, it's all a matter
    of your Earthly perspective.
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    Thank you.
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    (Applause)
Title:
What time is it on Mars?
Speaker:
Nagin Cox
Description:

Nagin Cox is a first-generation Martian. As a spacecraft engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Cox works on the team that manages the United States' rovers on Mars. But working a 9-to-5 on another planet -- whose day is 40 minutes longer than Earth's -- has particular, and often comical, challenges.

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Video Language:
English
Team:
TED
Project:
TEDTalks
Duration:
13:47

English subtitles

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