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Time, heresy, outer space, and artificial intelligence

Christopher Leslie, a former NASA mission planner for the International Space Station, tells time in a most uncommon way. The hands on your watch turn clockwise. Leslie?s clock turns counter clockwise. A conversation with him about Time will also have your head spinning.

Leslie contends that everyone counts time wrong. He came upon his heretic discovery while trying to determine how to tell time on the moon. Like Galileo before him, his ideas are not necessarily well accepted, but he agrees with Galileo that the Earth rotates around the Sun. Therefore, measuring time should begin with that fact, rather than ?the-Earth-is-flat? concept of our planet as the center of the universe with the Sun revolving around it.

The aerospace inventor ? more about that later ? is a thinker, and an amusing, albeit intense, conversationalist about his discovery, as BSN* discovered during an exclusive interview. On a rainy night, sitting on his porch with his two collie dogs in Houston, Texas, Leslie spent time explaining to us how he arrived at the design of his Truth Timepiece.

He said "Imagine yourself suspended in outer space, above the Earth, looking down at the North Pole. You will see a sphere half lit and half dark. The Earth is spinning counter clockwise. Come back down to Earth – say you are in Houston and the sun is directly over your head. It?s straight-up noon, or the meridian. Now, stay right there. As the Earth rotates, the sun appears to you either ante-meridian [AM] or post-meridian [PM]. The globe is broken down into 24 longitudes which equal the 24 hours it takes the sun to again be straight over head."
Leslie?s Truth Timepiece rotates counter clockwise. It doesn?t have the minute and second hands of a clock, nor the triangular style plate of a sundial. Sundials, the prolific historic basis for time telling, casts a clockwise-moving shadow as we move around the sun, making it look as though the sun itself is changing position, instead of the Earth circling the sun. Then again, how would a sundial look on our sky neighbors, our own satellite Moon or even neighboring planet Mars?

Longwood Gardens SundialLeslie claims that sundials, although used at least since the Egyptians, were diabolically utilized later by religious authorities, after Galileo?s fall from grace, to institutionalize their mistaken perception of the bible?s view of the universe. As time passed, clock makers followed suit, and hence, we tell time clockwise ? which is backwards, according to Leslie.

The Truth Timepiece may not have as much influence as the sundial, but it is available as an app in the Apple iTunes store. Leslie thinks the iPhone and iPod are totally "pop culture" oriented, and that is why his app has not garnered much attention. "All this high philosophy and mathematics are just ‘ehh’ [not too interesting] in their world," he says.

However, Leslie inhabits a world where his talents and ideas are valued. While a senior mission planner, he worked with Stottler Henke, specialists in artificial intelligence, to develop Temporis, a software application involving mission planning, artificial intelligence, and logic. On the space station, Mission Control does just that, it controls the activities of the crew. However, if the station loses touch with Earth while orbiting, or a future station is located far away on the moon, communications between the astronauts and Mission Control become problematic.

The crew needs volumes of data to enable them to make decisions on their own. They need to perform routine daily activities, space craft housekeeping, and on-board experiments on a rigid schedule. Temporis basically contains a ?brain dump? of all the rules, all the necessary data such as projectory, lighting, radiation, power. Previously, it took many man hours at Mission Control to prepare a schedule for a mission. Temporis, like HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey, has all the answers, and arrives at the solution much quicker than humans can.

Every activity must be scheduled, taking into account complex resource and task constraints. Spontaneity is at a premium. Windows of opportunity are small. Time is of the essence in space, and on Earth. And time is what fascinates Christopher Leslie, the designer of the Truth Timepiece.