The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (known affectionately and in short as the JPL) is NASA's top, federally funded center for space research, development and robotic exploration. It is managed by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).
Although, it is today known for cutting-edge robotics and its unprecedented Mars Curiosity Rover expedition, the JPL was initially--as its name implies--focused on rocket research.
Located in Pasadena, and founded during the World War II era, the JPL's lore is steeped in the stuff dreams are made of. It was the brainchild and labor of love of rocket pioneer Robert Goddard (who was initially ridiculed for his efforts).
JPL's First Generation Rocketmen
In the early founding years, Goddard was joined by fellow brilliant minded believers Frank Malina, Jack Parsons and Ed Forman. They found an isolated spot in the Arroyo Seco and began their rocket experiments--which initially failed--only to ultimately succeed in a launch on 1936.
The NASA Connection
Many years later, JPL Director William Pickering--eager to move into space research and exploration--convinced the Army and President Eisenhower to join forces with his small organization. In December, 1958, the JPL was formally transferred to NASA.
Mars Curiosity Rover
Was there ever life on Mars--could there ever be, in the future? The answers to these and other fantastical questions would literally open up a whole new world.
Like its name implies, the Mars Curiosity Rover, engineered at the JPL, has set out to curiously probe the steep and slippery terrain on Mars (since it first touched down on August 5th).
The Rover, which cost $2.5 billion to build, design and set into motion, measures 9 feet 10 inches in length and 7 feet in height. It boasts a robotic arm and multiple cameras (operating at the level of the human eye).
Its mission: to study the chemistry, geology and structure of the red planet, to see if it could be capable of sustaining microbial life.
Director of the Mars Exploration Program Doug McCuistion told The Guardian: "Science fiction is now science fact. We're flying to Mars... It's an enormous mission. It's equivalent of three missions, frankly, and quite an undertaking.">
JPL Open House Weekend
So much of what the JPL does is 'top secret,' but once a year, the organization shares its work with the public.
The annual Open House at NASA's JPL has been publicized as fun for the whole family. And, while this rare insiders' glimpse into the lab can be a bonding experience for kids, parents and grandparents, it's also a once-a-year dream-come-true for science and tech geeks (like yours truly).
Each year, the themed event (2012's theme: 'Great Journeys') ushers upwards of 38,000 visitors into the unique work and research space with the primary purpose of putting the JPL's missions on display to the public. Live demonstrations, (kid-friendly) activities and question/answer time with scientists and engineers are guaranteed to spark curiosity in both young and old attendees.
Getting to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Take the 210 Freeway (which you can connect to from the 134 or the 2) and get off at the Berkshire Avenue/Oak Grove Drive exit.
Parking: available near the Oak Grove main gate and eastern perimeter of the campus, accessible via Windsor Ave. from the Arroyo Boulevard exit of the 210.
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
4800 Oak Grove Dr.
Pasadena, CA 91011
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