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Life on Mars time for JPL scientist and his family

David Oh's eldest son taped aluminum foil over his windows. His daughter painted a sign warning visitors away from the front door. His wife pulled the phone cord out of the wall and turned the couple's cellphones off.

David's time on Earth had come to a temporary end — and he was taking his family with him.

As soon as the rover Curiosity dropped onto the Martian surface on Aug. 5, David and hundreds of his fellow scientists and engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory switched from Earth time to Mars time.

As the lead flight director for the Mars Science Laboratory team, David would sync his life up with the rover's for the first 90 Martian days of the Curiosity mission. It may not be rocket science, but it's quite an undertaking.

A Mars day, called a sol, is 39 minutes and 35 seconds longer than a 24-hour day on Earth. That small difference adds up fast, so that noon becomes midnight after 2 1/2 weeks. As scientists wind up sleeping during the day and working through the night, their lives pull away from those of their families.

Not the Oh clan. For the first month, all five have stuck together, an idea championed by David's wife, Bryn.

"This project for six years has been so much a part of his life," she said at the family's tidy two-story home in La Cañada Flintridge. "This was a way that I thought that we could be a part of it."

The family has learned a lot about Southern California since their experiment began, talking to friendly folk in a Canoga Park bowling alley at 4 a.m. and gawking at late-night partygoers while eating dinner at dawn at Fred 62 in Los Feliz.

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-- Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times

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