One family recalls living on Mars time with NASA rover Curiosity

Mars time family
David Oh with his wife, Bryn, left, and their sons Devyn and Braden and daughter Ashlyn, show their Mars cake during a late-night dinner at their home in La Canada Flintridge. David, a Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer on NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission, has worked on Mars time during the Curiosity rover mission. His family joined him on the schedule for a month.
(Ringo H.W. Chiu / For The Times)

On this final day of 2012, one family can look back at their year and say they spent a month on Mars – Mars time, that is.

As soon as the Curiosity rover touched down Aug. 5, David Oh and his fellow scientists and engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory switched from Earth time to Mars time, a schedule they planned to keep for the Mars Science Laboratory mission’s first 90 days. Though a Martian day is just 39 minutes and 35 seconds longer than a day on Earth, the difference adds up quickly, and the team’s schedules inexorably pull away from those of their families.

Rather than lose David entirely, his wife, Bryn, and the couple’s three kids joined David on Mars time for the first month, before summer vacation ended. The family found creative ways to push back the clock, whether watching the Perseid meteor shower at night or making 4 a.m. trips to a nearby bowling alley.

I wrote about the family’s Martian adventure during the summer and recently checked back with the Ohs to see how the rest of Mars time went, once Bryn and the kids returned to Earth. The couple sent back some lovely notes, excerpted here.


Are you glad you made it through a month of Mars time together?

BRYN: Absolutely! Last August was one of the best months of my life -- for me and for my kids, too. 

The month we were on Mars time together was amazing, almost magical, and we still see its effects today.  Even mundane activities, like going to dinner, became an adventure. 

DAVID: The kids have asked when we get to do it again.  I had to tell them it was, for our family, probably a once in a lifetime opportunity. But I also told them that [they] are the only kids who have ever done Mars time. They have something to remember and something to be proud of.


Have you seen any changes in the family after Mars time?

DAVID: The whole family really came together on Mars time, and I think that the effects lasted for many weeks afterwards.

BRYN: Ashlyn sleeps in the dark now; and though it still happens occasionally, Devyn has almost stopped sleepwalking. 

During Mars time, you guys used terms like “yestersol” and “solmorrow” for “yesterday” and “tomorrow” on Mars. Did you guys hear or start using any other Mars terms?

BRYN: I recently heard them use the term “soliday”!

Was the experience as hard as you expected it to be?

BRYN: Compared to what we expected, compared to the studies and the anecdotes, family Mars time was actually very easy.

I suspect in all the studies and all the anecdotes, people who went on Mars Time previously tried to do it alone.  It was great doing it together.  It was so much easier doing it together.  And when David was doing it alone, it was harder for him and for us. 


DAVID: I think my wife [was] definitely ready for me to come back to Earth. 

BRYN: I am extremely happy to have David solidly back on Earth time. 

What do you miss about Mars time? 

BRYN: We joke about just popping out to Hollywood for a bite to eat and laugh because it’s not worth the traffic to grab a fast food chicken sandwich at Chick-fil-A in the middle of the day.  The August Perseid meteor showers are one of the best of the year -- somehow it’s very poetic that the magic of seeing falling stars regularly at night disappeared now that we are no longer on Mars time.

Follow me on Twitter @aminawrite.

Excerpts edited for clarity.

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