JPL opens its house

‘Worlds Beyond’ gives thousands of attendees an inside look at what the laboratory does.

May 20, 2010|By Michael J. Arvizu

Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada opened its campus this past weekend for an annual open house, drawing thousands of people, including students from as far away as Tijuana.

The open house, dubbed “Worlds Beyond,” featured exhibits, various hands-on activities and a tour of JPL’s Deep Space Network facility, which tracks missions on Mars, Saturn, and the Voyager I and II spacecraft. There were also demonstrations of JPL’s Mars Science Laboratory, an SUV-sized rover scheduled for launch next year; and of the legendary Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, whose lifespans exceeded NASA expectations.

The goal of the open house was to bring the science that JPL conducts on a daily basis — made famous by countless television, newspaper and radio reports over the years — to the public, organizers said.


Guests were also able to ask questions of the engineers behind the missions.

“It makes it that much more real,” said Mars Observatory mobility engineer Sean Haggart. “There’s something visceral about hearing it, seeing it and being able to experience it yourself. Being closer to the rover, I think, brings you closer to the science.”

For Duveen Rivera, operations and maintenance program manager for Deep Space Network, landing robots on Mars and sending probes to the outer reaches of the solar system are nothing compared to seeing the thrill of shuttle missions being launched to the International Space Station or space walks broadcasted live on television.

In that vein, Salazar said he hoped the open house would spark interest in its missions for those who may know little about them.

“The main reason is just to raise awareness,” he said. “We’re trying to get, especially kids, interested in science and excited about it and hopefully get them in the direction of becoming an engineer or a scientist.”

For 5-year-old Daniel Armstrong of Glendale, the event brought the real life mechanics of space exploration home. He was attending the open house with his mother, Celeste, for the first time.

“I do like space; I even have an astronaut costume,” said Daniel, who moments before had model wheels of a rover’s mobility system drive over him.

Angela Duran, 21, of Tijuana’s Autonomous University of Baja California, traveled with a group of classmates by bus for an opportunity to tour the JPL campus. A marketing major, she said she wanted to learn for herself how much of what she sees on television is real.

“Since this is my first time visiting, it has impacted me how things here work,” Duran said. “This trip might inspire me to do new things in my career.”

Beyond inspiring dreams and career paths, Mars Program Manager Fuk K. Li said the open house was also a way for people to see how their taxpayer dollars were being used at the federally funded laboratory.

“We try to bring to them what we’re doing, the excitement we have in exploring Mars,” Li said. “Let them see the models that we have; let them see physical things that we’re doing with our hands. It gives us a lot more interaction with the public.”

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