Hows it going everyone out there steeming away! Growing up I was always taught that I could be anything I wanted, so I wanted to be an astronaut. I realized shortly this was not the case and I was grounded for life but it never kept my dreams from souring. @beckymeep, being the absolutely wonderful girlfriend she is knew I had always dreamed of visiting JPL. She knew I was a huge NASA buff and launched my own balloon (post still pending), so she went out of her way to try and schedule a tour of the facility on the day of my birthday. She did so three months in advance! The tour was planned and when my birthday rolled around it was the absolute best gift I could have ever been given.
We arrived promptly that morning to make sure we didn't miss this historic day. Upon arriving to the proper location where others in our group were waiting, I noticed a sign stating that being on the facility subjected us to searches of our property at any time. Also no weapons, but this was obvious as JPL is a government facility.
As the tour guide rounded everyone up to start the tour, we were herded into a large auditorium with seats in front of a huge screen. All around the room were life size models of the spacecraft JPL had produced. The presenter at the front of the room started us off with a video animation depicting the current missions JPL had going on. Once the video concluded the presenter opened discussion up to the group and allowed everyone to roam around and look at the various models present. One thing in the room in particular stood out immediately to me.
A replica of the infamous Golden Disk sent with both Voyager probes, was gleaming brightly in the room. I was drawn to its brilliance. The golden disk was sent with both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 as a type of time capsule from the human race. It contained a phonograph and 12 inch gold plated copper disk containing sounds and images from earth. Famous astrophysicist Carl Sagan chaired a committee to choose the images and sounds for NASA. The disk contained 115 images as well as animal sounds, musical selections and greetings. The disk was presented front and center to the Voyager model.
Voyager 1 and 2 were probes launched in 1979, to explore both Jupiter and Saturn. After this was successful their missions were extended. Voyager 2 is the only probe to visit Uranus and Neptune. More than 39 years later these probes are still relaying information via the Deep Space Network. Voyager 1 has even left the solar system, off to explore the outer realms of space. Another brilliant object in the room was the Cassini spacecraft model.
The 1997 Cassini mission was a joint venture between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. It was designed to study the system of Saturn in detail. The Cassini spacecraft also dropped the probe Huygens to the surface of Saturns' moon Titan, where it successfully relayed back information. The Cassini missions continued to be extended, collecting huge resources of data about Saturn, until September 15 2017. NASA decided to plunge the spacecraft into the atmosphere of Saturn where it burned up. In doing so, they received an enormous amount of information about the composition of Saturns' atmosphere. Sitting next to the Cassini model was the smallest of the group, the Juno probe.
NASA's Juno probe was launched in 2011 and is currently in orbit around Jupiter. It is being used to study Jupiters' immense magnetic field as well as trying to obtain a deeper understanding of how gas giants are formed. So far, Juno has completed three rotations around the planet, with a total of 12 set. Stunning images of Jupiters' surface have allowed us to see it in ways never before.
After observing the models, the tour guide continued to move the group to a new room with more models and different things to view. One thing he pointed out were the Moon rocks suspended in glass prisms.
On the wall I noticed a screen that seemed to have a video camera pointed at the room. The screen was displaying both video and infrared light. Rebecca seemed more heated than I
In the center of the room stood 2 mars rovers. The smaller of the two, Pathfinder, looked like a little childs' RC car.
The Mars Pathfinder was launched in 1996 and was the first ever robotic rover on the red planet. The Pathfinder mission was a demonstration on new technology never before used and showcased a cost effective method of delivering a robot to Mars. The rover was designed to study the martian atmosphere as well as take soil samples. It actually outlived its designed lifespan by 12 times. Next to the little Pathfinder rover was the larger Opportunity.
The twin rover team of Spirit and Opportunity were launched in 2003 to study signs of past life on Mars. Of the many discoveries made by the two, the largest was that Mars was much wetter than we ever thought. The Spirit rover became stuck in sand and was unable to maneuver out. Its mission was ended in 2011. Opportunity on the other hand, reached sol 5000 and like its predecessors, outlived its intended lifespan. It is still chugging along strong relaying back vital information. The behemoth model taking up almost the whole room was the Galileo spacecraft
The Galileo spacecraft, launched in 1989 was the first orbiter designed to study Jupiter and its moons. It is credited with finding liquid oceans on Europa and the extensive volcanic processes on Io. Galileo was the first orbiter to fly past an asteroid and to discover a moon of an asteroid. The orbiter was later deliberately plunged into Jupiters' atmosphere to prevent collision with Europa.
After looking around the room reading the many placards containing a plethora of information, we moved on out of the building. We walked along outside, single file to another larger building. Once inside we walked upstairs to an overhead viewing area of a white room.
On the walls were badges of the many accomplished missions. The tour guide proceeded to explain this was the clean room where the space craft were built. The room had to maintain a specified parts per million of dust. In the corner I noticed what looked like a lab technician standing very still. I came to learn that was clean room Bob the dummy. I actually thought it was a real person at first! After moving out of the clean room we moved on to another building and to another overlook.
Now this control room is famous for actually being in movies as it is the control room used by JPL to communicate with the satellites. This control room monitors the Deep Space Network. The DSN is a network of satellite arrays used to initiate coarse corrections and provide updates. The satellite arrays are located in Canberra Australia, Madrid Spain, and Goldstone California. Each array is located 120 degree apart from each other on the planet so satellites are able to communicate with at least one array at all times.
Before the tour ended we were brought to one final model. Prior to viewing the model I noticed an assortment of lights going up and down these clear strands. Lights were traveling up and down in no particular order or pattern. The tour guide specified that those lights were a visual representation of the live data being uploaded and downloaded via the DSN.
The final model was a rover much larger than any of the others we had viewed. The Curiosity rover, launched in 2011, is the most technologically advanced rover ever built. Its mission is to determine if microbial life has lived, or is capable of living on the red planet. The rover is powered by a radioisotope thermoelectric generator located at the rear. A funny fact that the tour guide let us know is that JPL cant have its logo on the rover, so if you notice, there are holes in the tires. Those holes are code for JPL that was slipped in by the designers to label their product! Once the guide was done explaining about the Curiosity rover the tour was convened and we headed back to the car completely blown away by what we had been shown.
I hope you enjoyed this visual tour of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It was one heck of a birthday present and a life experience that I hope everyone can partake in. Thank you for taking the time to read this post.
All photos, unless otherwise stated or sourced, were taken by @csusbgeochem1. Animation and cover photo created by @csusbgeochem1 using GIMP
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