In Search of the Martian Clock
by Gary Fisher
edited by Thomas Gangale
Tracking down the whereabouts of a half-century-old Martian artifact turned out to be an easy exercise for a resourceful man like Gary Fisher, chair of the Independence Chapter of the Mars Society in Philadelphia. Best of all, it turned out that there were two Martian clocks! TG.
I came upon the following website by David S. F. Porter, a science writer, called 'Romance to Reality: moon & Mars expedition & settlement plans' which contained the following reference.
"Mars Clock and Calendar," I. M. Levitt, Sky & Telescope, May 1954. I. M. Levitt, Fels Planetarium, Philadelphia, reports on a Mars chronometer designed to allow "future pioneers into outer space" to compare Earth and Mars time, necessary because "[e]ven the return to Earth will probably have to be started at a precise hour, minute, and second of Earth time, in order to rendezvous with an Earth-satellite station." The device, which includes about 400 working mechanical parts, was built with Levitt's aid by Ralph Mentzer of the Hamilton Watch Company. The Mars calendar has 12 months of 55 or 56 days bearing the same names as Earth months. To keep the calendar in step with the martian seasons, Levitt proposes adding a day to December in three out of five years. The first and fourth years would have 668 days, while the remaining years would have 669.
When I was 16 (27 years ago!) I took a summer course in astronautics at the Franklin Institute which was run by Dr. Levitt, so this was great to stumble upon a reference to some of his work relating to Mars.
I am not sure if Levitt is still alive, he retired from the Franklin Institute a few years later. I recall that he was sure (this was 1973) water (ice) would be found on the Moon.
I corresponded with I. M. Levitt about 12 years ago, and he sent me a sketch of a second clock design that was never built. At that time, neither he nor the Fels Planetarium knew the whereabouts of the clock that was built in 1954. It would certainly be interesting to track down this early Martian artifact.
Levitt also discussed Martian timekeeping in "A Space Traveller's Guide to Mars," Henry Holt & Co., New York, 1956.
Thank you so much for the references to the Levitt clock. This evening the Franklin Institute's Chief Astronomer, Derrick Pitts, is doing a Sky Tour radio broadcast from a high school near me. I am going to go and present him with a copy of the article with picture of the clock from your website and ask him to keep his eye out for the clock. This clock is akin to Harrington's chronometers and deserves a place in the Martian equivalent of the Greenwich observatory museum. Hope it is found.
Levitt was an interesting character. He was a small man who usually wore a dour expression, but when he lectured on astronautics his face would light up. He was a man of strong intellect and broad imagination. I got the impression that his head was in the stars and he was unhappy that his feet were planted on the Earth. I will try to find out if he is still alive.
I did an Internet search and found the phone number of Ralph B. Mentzer formerly of Hamilton Watch Co. that built the clock.
He and his wife are currently 85 and he is recovering from a leg operation, but I spoke with his wife who informed me that two copies of the clock exist. One is with the Smithsonian and the other is at the National Clock and Watch Museum in Columbia, PA. (http://www.nawcc.org/headquarters/hqmain.htm)
I have left a voice mail with the curator at the Clock museum requesting a confirmation that it is there. Will let you know what I find out.
Thank you for confirming that the Mars clock is in the collection of the National Clock and Watch Museum.
I have left a message for Carlene Stevens, Curator of Timekeeping, at the Smithsonian, but have yet to hear from her regarding a copy of the clock in their collection. I will email you with her answer when I get it.
Thomas Gangale, who I have copied on this email, maintains a website devoted to issues of Martian timekeeping and calendar systems.
At this address can be found a copy of the Sky and Telescope article from May 1954 that describes the clock. It includes a picture of the clock which you can compare to the one in your collection to see if in fact we are talking about the same clock.
Thank you so much for your help.
November 14, 2000
Thank you again for your assistance with the Mars Clock. I realized that there were two questions I forgot to ask:
Is the clock on display? If not how would one go about requesting an opportunity to view it?
And, is it in working order?
I never did get a reply to may phone message to Carlene Stevens at the Smithsonian regarding whether they possess a copy of the clock. I will try again soon.
15 Nov 2000
Dear Mr. Fisher,
The Mars clock is on display in our final gallery "The Future of Timekeeping". We do not run items in exhibit cases and since this has always been in an exhibit case I have never seen it operate.
29 Nov 2000
Great detective work! I'd like your approval to publish the series of messages that led to your discovery as an article on the Martian Time Website. Attached is a draft.
By all means feel free to post the email exchange. Maybe someday it will inspire someone to take the clock to Mars. I can just imagine the martian school kids with their noses pressed against the glass of the exhibit case staring at this strange, non-digitial artifact from long ago and so far away.