The largest space robotics facility in the world has played host to some of NASA’s most famous missions, including Voyager 1 & 2 in 1977 and most recently the Mars Rover Curiosity.
Space nerd ready.
JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. It’s located on 177 acres of land in Pasadena/La Cañada Flintridge and is twice the size of Disneyland.
Voyager 1, currently the farthest man-made object from Earth. Equipped with a Golden Record designed to summarize humanity in a way that might be decipherable to other intelligent beings, the satellite from the 1970s has left our solar system for good.
The contents of the record were selected by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan.
It was affixed to the Voyager 1 and 2 satellites.
On it are greetings in over 50 different languages, music from around the world, and most importantly, graphical instructions for playing the record.
Beam Me Up
Theodore von Karman is known as the father of supersonic flight.
Inside the Von Karman Museum.
Spirit/Opportunity (2004) & Lil Sojourner (1997).
Prior to NASA there was NACA [National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics].
A little encouragement never hurts.
Scale model of the Mars Rover Curiosity.
Back in 2007, when the Curiosity team was putting together the rover, its wheel cleats had a raised pattern with the letters “JPL,” leaving a little stamp of the rover’s birthplace everywhere it rolled. NASA made them change the pattern since they didn’t want to piss off any of the other groups that helped build the rover. So what did JPL do? They put holes in the wheel cleats that now stamp a pattern in the martian soil that is Morse code for JPL. Ha!
There is a tradition at JPL to eat “good luck peanuts” before critical mission events, such as orbital insertions or landings. As the story goes, after the Ranger program had experienced failure after failure during the 1960s, the first successful Ranger mission to impact the moon occurred while a JPL staff member was eating peanuts. The staff jokingly decided that the peanuts must have been a good luck charm, and the tradition persisted.
Everyone was extremely excited to be sitting in the same chairs that are used in actual launch missions.
It’s Mohawk Guy! Although NASA’s mission control room was packed with dozens of rocket scientists during the landing of Mars Curiosity rover, no one made a bigger impression on live-television viewers than flight engineer Bobak Ferdowsi. The 32-year-old Oakland native has become the star of NASA’s mission coverage, becoming an overnight internet sensation thanks in large part to his stars-and-stripes, mohawk haircut and his ever-growing social media fan base. Since his television debut in the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) mission control, he has become known as simply, ‘Mohawk Guy.’ Throughout the Mars rover landing, twitter hashtags such as ‘Mars Landing,’ ‘Mars Curiosity’ and ‘JPL’ became worldwide trends, and the account @MarsCuriosity grew to more than 900,000 followers within just a week its landing. Even Ferdowsi’s personal twitter account, @tweetsoutloud, gained over 55,000 followers, which catapulted his internet stardom. ‘Mohawk Guy’ also emerged in other social media platforms, and gained popularity in various tumblrs and memes, including taglines like “Mars? Please. I already hit that,” and, more famously, “Becomes an internet sensation. Too busy landing a rover on mars.”
…and there’s Elvis Guy! Adam Steltzner is often profiled by the press in human interest stories with a focus on a “rock and roll” engineer image; for example he was called “the face of the 2012 Mars Science Laboratory mission” by the EE Times, who also called him “a bit of a hipster”; he was interviewed on National Public Radio which noted his “Elvis haircut”, and profiled again on NPR in a piece called “Red Planet, Green Thumb: How A NASA Scientist Engineers His Garden”. A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, he came from a family that was financially well off, his father being the heir to the Schilling spice fortune. He struggled in classes in high school, earned a failing grade in geometry, and was told by his father he would never amount to anything but a ditch digger. “I was sort of studying sex, drugs and rock and roll in high school,” says Steltzner. After high school he played bass and drums in new wave bands. He studied jazz at Berklee College of Music in Boston, for less than a year. As The New Yorker put it, “He was a college dropout and small-town playboy (he briefly dated the model Carré Otis), an assistant manager at an organic market and an occasional grower of weed. He had few skills and fewer prospects.” Around 1984, while driving home from music gigs at night, he noticed how the position of the constellation Orion was in a different place than before. This fascinated him, so he decided to take an astronomy class at College of Marin, but he was required to complete a class in physics first, and it was there he had a revelation: nature could be understood and predicted. As Steltzner put it, “I had found religion.” By 1985 he quit music and devoted himself full-time to the challenge of school.
The Control Room at JPL where scientists transmit and receive messages to rovers and satellites exploring other worlds via a global network of radio antennae: the Deep Space Network. Kind of looks like where I work.
Where space robots are made.
The clean room at JPL’s Spacecraft Assembly Facility.
This is where JPL scientists and engineers piece together the next big rover or satellite to boldly go where no robot has gone before.
Because of the sensitive nature of the sometimes multi-billion dollar crafts, the dust levels in the clean room where they are assembled is kept strictly below 100,000 particles per cubic foot, making JPL home to the one of the cleanest environments on Earth.
They are currently working/building SMAP, a Soil Moisture Active Passive, scheduled to launch November 2014. SMAP is an Earth satellite mission used to measure and map Earth’s soil moisture and freeze/thaw state to better understand terrestrial water, carbon and energy cycles.
The dirtiest things to enter this room are the scientists themselves. For this reason, a stringent “scrub in” procedure is enforced to minimize the amount of dust tracked into the space. At times of high-tidiness, workers are required to jump into paper-white “bunny suits” that cover their bodies.
A surgeon’s hat and mask as well as fabric boots then complete the outfit. But that’s not all: sticky floor mats and a brushing machine remove the grime from their shoes and an air shower blasts the poor particles from their bodies. Finally, a grounding clip is attached at the wrist and waist to prevent the accumulation of static charge. All of this fuss is for good reason, however: if it weren’t for the precautionary measures, scientists would risk shorting an expensive circuit or, even worse, contaminate the destination planet or moon potentially harboring sensitive life forms.
JPL in 3D!
Deer, deer, everywhere. They love JPL and are not afraid of humans.
Like a classic Bugs Bunny-Elmer Fudd cartoon, JPL officials continue nearly a decade-long game of back-and-forth with the wandering deer to keep them from munching on foliage and making people watch where they step on walkways. Wildlife control came to a head in 2005 after an iron fence was installed between the facility and the surrounding Angeles National Forest to keep the deer from eating flowers planted to beautify the grounds. It looks like the deer are still WINNING.