November 22, 2017

A Fascinating Day at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena

16300012_1662053207141787_2301058210329841647_oThroughout human history we have been fascinated by what is in the night sky, and what is beyond our planet. There are many places to go to find out, but by far one of the best is the Jet Propulsion Lab in La Canada near Pasadena. The folks at JPL are CalTech employees working at a NASA facility that specializes in robots. JPL has been working on space technology for so long that it pre-dates NASA itself.

After a nice ride to Pasadena (thanks Ernesto!) our Daytripper tour began in Old Pasadena for free time for lunch or for shopping. Many of our group of 47 took a previous guest’s suggestion and went to Harlowe’s French Dip. Word on the street is that the sandwich is very good and reasonably priced, and that I need to check it out next time. Others found something to eat at the MANY restaurants in the area. No going hungry in Old Pasadena!

16300217_1662052963808478_334918032987811148_oThen the group re-boarded the motor coach and Ernesto drove us to JPL, located at the base of the San Gabriel mountains. The tour began in their auditorium (the same one they do press conferences in) with some background on JPL, what they do and an opportunity to look at scaled models for past, current and future space explorers. The model of Cassini, the space explorer that recently was plunged into the planet Saturn after 20 years of service, was a bitter sweet sight.

After a film narrated by Harrison Ford that described the different planets and the work JPL has done to explore them, we then went to their museum to see other models of the Mars explorers, a moon rock, and more. Then off to the “good stuff” where we got to see workers in the clean room putting together the next Mars Rover that will launch in 2020. The clean room is cleaner than anywhere you’ll ever go, as they want to make sure workers on the rover don’t contaminate anything on Mars. If they did, in the rest of their research on Mars they would never know if the “life’ they found was really from Mars, or some sort of “life” brought to Mars from Earth.

18671751_1822765591070547_7829593949546822542_oThe last stop was to Space Flight Operations Facility, a building that came directly out of Kennedy’s direction to get a man on the moon, and a place that is staffed 24 hours a day year-round. It’s here that the Deep Space Network is – a worldwide system of antennas that communicates with interplanetary spacecraft (they have a nifty art exhibit in the lobby that uses lights to graphically demonstrate the information coming in from space and leaving earth). On a regular day it is quiet as most of the work is computer controlled. We learned that if it is busy it is because a spacecraft isn’t responding correctly or that an antenna is in the wrong position.

Our Daytripper group was curious and asked lots of questions, and really enjoyed the visit. Space is endlessly fascinating, and even if you’ve been to JPL before, it’s worth a second look. With new discoveries and different tour guides at the facility (many gave been there for over 17 years!) there is always something new to learn.

jennifer-hudsonJennifer Hudson
DayTripper Tour Director
Tour: NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena
Date: November 13, 2017


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