It’s not everyday I get to talk with someone who works on Mars.
So when I scored an assignment for The Atlantic magazine’s website (Jet Lag is Worse on Mars) on how Martian explorers will adjust to a longer Martian day, my first call was to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. I was able to get an interview with Jennifer Trosper, deputy project manager for NASA’s Mars Rover Curiosity, who has worked on Mars rovers since the Pathfinder landed in the ’90s with its small auxiliary rover Sojourner. With each rover, Trosper spent a period of time, up to three months, working on Mars time. The Martian sol as it’s called is 40 minutes longer than an Earth day.
That continual rocket lag proved fairly exhausting, though my story for The Atlantic also focused on research that showed how Martian explorers could reset their bodies’ internal clocks to adjust to those extra 40 minutes. What Trosper and the other controllers at JPL are experiencing is taking the first steps toward virtually working on Mars.
It may not be as good as getting actual boots on Mars, but it’s the best we can do for now. And just recently, they took another small step that could lead to a giant leap in virtual exploration of the planet.