Tag Archives: JPL

Get Out Of Town!: JPL Tour

For space and science buffs, and anyone with an interest in NASA satellite and rover programs, the Visitor Day JPL Tour at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena is an exciting and informative experience.

While school groups and public groups can sign up for their own specific tour, smaller groups, families and individuals can sign up to join one of the Visitor Day Tours held weekly. These tours usually admit nearly 100 people and are then separated into two or three smaller groups.

Typically, the tour begins with check-in at the Visitor Reception Center, which also houses a small gift shop. Then, the group heads to the von Karmen Visitor Center to watch a short movie produced by JPL’s own media crew and to view the models of satellites and rovers produced on site over the past several decades.

jpl tour

The 2020 Mars Rover nears completion in the clean room at NASA JPL in Pasadena. (Photo By Lisa Paredes)

Then, the smaller groups tour the JPL campus, visiting the Spacecraft Assembly Facility in which they can see the current project being worked on in the clean room. The final months of 2019 were particularly exciting for tour attendees as the final components and tests on the 2020 Mars Rover were assembled and completed.

Tour visitors may visit the Earth Science Center and the Space Flight Operations Facility, also known as Mission Control. Much of the Space Flight Operations Facility work includes collecting data from satellites and space craft in deep space, which monitor everything from the Moon and beyond. The Deep Space Network collects information received by dishes throughout the world, from satellites including Voyager I and II, Juno and many more.

There’s a lot of surprising and interesting information shared on the tour, about deep space work, Mars rovers and the ongoing, intensive study of the Earth, along with the history of JPL.

Mission Control at NASA JPL’s Space Flight Operations Facility. (Photo By Lisa Paredes)

Each tour lasts two to two-and-a-half hours and must be signed up for in advance online via the JPL tour link located here. Tours fill up quickly, and new dates are offered three months in advance at the beginning of the month, so planning and vigilance are the key to securing a tour date.

Other requirements include all attendees being able to present government-issued identification. There are accommodations for disabled visitors, and JPL requests alerting them ahead of time of accessibility needs.

(Photo By Lisa Paredes)

The JPL Tour is free and open to the public. Tours are held rain or shine and include significant walking and stairs. Free parking is available in lots adjacent to the visitor’s office. NASA JPL is located at 4800 Oak Grove Drive in Pasadena, near the 210 Freeway.

More information NASA JPL, and all its projects, can be found online here.

Editor’s Note: While there’s always a lot going on in Burbank, myBurbank’s “Get Out Of Town!” highlights some of our favorite activities and events outside the town borders.

JPL Scientists Visit John Muir Middle School For STEM Workshop

Scientists, engineers, researchers and staff from JPL visited John Muir Middle School on Friday, November 9, for a STEM event that combined hands-on projects, an up-close interaction with a Mars ROV-E 6 wheel rover and short presentations on exploring space and other planets and searching for extraterrestrial life.

Shannon Statham and Mana Salami held a joint talk on “How to Build an Interplanetary Exploration Mission.” Douglas Isbell spoke about “NASA’s Mars Rovers and the Power to Explore.” Curt Henry presented “Extremophiles,” a look at life that exists on Earth in extremely hot, cold, salty, dry or other intense conditions and how their existence affects the probability of finding life beyond Earth.

(Photo By Ross Benson)

Fabien Nicaise, Christopher Esquer-Rosas, Tony Tran, Lori Shiraishi, Yvonne Chen and Bryce Page from JPL were also on hand to answer questions and facilitate the paper rocket launch contest. They also helped students build an origami Starshade (https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/video/details.php?id=1284.)

Hands-on display items included a Mars 2020 aluminum wheel, Mars Globe, Dawn spacecraft model, relief model of Gale Crater, 3-D surface model of Jupiter’s moon Europa and more.

Rows of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders lined up to lay down and be “run over” by the Mars ROV-E 6 wheel rover, which depicts current rovers Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity.

John Muir Middle School students had fun being “run over” by the Mars ROV-E 6 wheel rover. (Photo By Ross Benson)

“STEM outreach events provide students the opportunity to engage with scientists and engineers who actually create science instruments and rovers that are sent into space,” commented JPL Instruments Division Facility and Safety representative Nga Vu-Lintag, a Muir parent, who coordinated the event.

“It can spark excitement in the fields of STEM and help them understand what a future in STEM might look like. Hopefully, it encourages them to look into career paths they might not think of. Who knows, they could be the next generation of JPLers!”

(Photo By Ross Benson)

Muir parent volunteers, Paula Trubisky and Mindi Bedaux, helped out with the event and State Senator Anthony Portantino stopped as well.

One week previously, on November 2, Muir eighth-grade science students got to experience what it feels like to visit other planets, stars and galaxies by entering a 35′ wide by 15′ high inflatable Planetarium set up in the school cafeteria by JPL.


Muir Middle School STEM Event Features JPL Scientists

More than 600 students participated in a John Muir Middle School STEM Outreach activity with six scientists and engineers from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) on Friday, October 13.

The students, from science classes in grades six through eight, attended the event and rotated through several stations focused on various aspects of space study and exploration.

muir middle school stem

Muir Middle School students experience a 15′ high inflatable planetarium. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

The Muir Middle School STEM activities included discussions and interactive experiences on: Exoplanets, Venus Lander Concept, Curiosity Rover, Juno Spacecraft and the upcoming Mars 2020 Rover and Europa Clipper missions, according to Muir parent and JPL employee Nga Vu-Lintag.

The JPL scientists and engineers also “brought the Mars Curiosity 8 wheel rover prototype to ‘run’ kids over and a 15-foot Planetarium where students got to experience what it feels like to visit other planets, stars and galaxies,” explained Vu-Lintag.

“This activity provided an opportunity for students to engage with real scientists and engineers who do one-of-a kind missions and are passionate about what they do, and love sharing it with our youth,” she added. “Hopefully it sparked an interest in one of the fields of STEM.”

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The Mars Curiosity 8 wheel rover prototype rolls over Muir Middle School students at the school’s STEM Outreach event.(Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Teresa Lamb Simpson, a representative from Congressman Adam Schiff’s office, also attended the Muir Middle School STEM Outreach event.

“It was so wonderful to have researchers and scientists here at Muir from JPL,” commented Muir Principal Greg Miller.

“While many of the students were buzzing about the planetarium and the rover, the best conversation I heard was between two students during lunch discussing different ways that moisture can be found in the universe and how important that is to space travel and colonization,” he also said. “That is a conversation of future scientists that will set out to find answers, just like the scientists that they saw today.”


Congressman Schiff Applauds New Mars Rover

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) applauded the new Mars program missions announced by NASA, including a new robotic science rover set to launch in 2020. Over the past year, Schiff has worked with the planetary science community and his congressional colleagues to urge NASA to reconsider its ill-advised cuts to the Mars Program. Today’s announcement represents a major step away from that earlier decision, and Schiff will continue to push for expanded funding for the Mars Program through the regular Appropriations process and end of the year legislation.

“I am pleased that NASA has announced the next steps in its robotic exploration of Mars, namely the launch of a Curiosity-class rover to the Martian surface in 2020,” said Rep. Schiff. “ In its few short months on Mars, Curiosity has broadened our understanding of our planetary neighbor, and the findings announced thus far point to even greater discoveries as Curiosity continues to explore Gale Crater and Mount Sharp.  An upgraded rover with additional instrumentation and capabilities is a logical next step that builds upon now proven landing and surface operations systems.

“While a 2020 launch would be favorable due to the alignment of Earth and Mars, a launch in 2018 would be even more advantageous as it would allow for an even greater payload to be launched to Mars.  I will be working with NASA, the White House and my colleagues in Congress to see whether advancing the launch date is possible and what it would entail.”

According to NASA, the planned expansion of the Mars exploration program would consist of the current constellation of spacecraft on the surface and in orbit around Mars, as well s the new NASA rover and contributions to Europe’s planned ExoMars mission. The portfolio includes the Curiosity and Opportunity rovers; two NASA spacecraft and contributions to one European spacecraft currently orbiting Mars; the 2013 launch of the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) orbiter to study the Martian upper atmosphere; the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission, which will take the first look into the deep interior of Mars; and participation in ESA’s 2016 and 2018 ExoMars missions, including providing “Electra” telecommunication radios to ESA’s 2016 mission and a critical element of the premier astrobiology instrument on the 2018 ExoMars rover.

The plan to design and build a new Mars robotic science rover with a launch in 2020 comes only months after the agency announced InSight, which will launch in 2016, bringing a total of seven NASA missions operating or being planned to study and explore our Earth-like neighbor.  The 2020 mission will constitute another step toward being responsive to high-priority science goals and the president’s challenge of sending humans to Mars orbit in the 2030s.

The future rover development and design will be based on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) architecture that successfully carried the Curiosity rover to the Martian surface this summer. This will ensure mission costs and risks are as low as possible, while still delivering a highly capable rover with a proven landing system. The mission will constitute a vital component of a broad portfolio of Mars exploration missions in development for the coming decade.

Rep. Schiff Cheers Curiosity Landing at JPL

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) released the following statement after the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), known as Curiosity, successfully touched down on Mars and began its extraordinary mission:

“The landing of Curiosity is a remarkable engineering achievement and the culmination of nearly a decade of work by thousands of people here and around the world. In the coming weeks and months, Curiosity will answer many of the vital questions about Mars’ past and whether it ever had conditions suitable for life. But tonight we celebrate the genius of humankind.

“This success must reinvigorate our efforts to restore funding for planetary science and future Mars missions. While we have restored some of the funding –- almost $100 million so far –- much work remains to return the Mars Program to health. Without the certainty of future missions and support, we will find it impossible to maintain the most specialized workforce on earth –- the brilliant engineers and scientists who made this mission possible.”

Adam Schiff shared this image through his Twitter account Sunday night at JPL just before Curiosity landed on Mars

Rep. Adam Schiff on NASA and Innovation

On 28 February Burbank N Beyond’s John Savageau had the opportunity to interview Representative Adam Schiff from the 29th District, encompassing Burbank, Glendale, Pasadena, and surrounding areas, in his Washington D.C. office.  This is the third article in a series highlighting activities and topics of interest to Burbank.

BurbankNBeyond:  If we are cutting our budget for NASA, and the innovation not just to go to Mars and beyond, but the innovation and technology that’s generated through that type of research and development, what’s next?  Do we privatize NASA?  Do we make it a commercial company, do we continue to try and fund it (NASA) as a government entity…  How do we continue as the United States to be as innovative as NASA has allowed us to be over the last several decades?

Rep. Schiff:  I think we have to continue to have a strong NASA.  As a very large public component it has a role for the private sector as well, which it (private sector) has always had a role.

My chief concern right now is not with the overall NASA budget, which is pretty good considering the times, but with how we’ve balanced the portfolio within the NASA  budget. And the enormous cuts to planetary science.

This is one of the most exciting areas of NASA’s work.  Exploring the solar system, and beyond the solar system, looking for signs of life elsewhere.  We’ve found solid evidence of water on Mars, large bodies of water in the past, and we’re tantalizingly close to finding the building blocks of life elsewhere, and answering some of the most profound questions we have about the universe and our place in it.

And it would be catastrophic to step back from that and to decide that this was beyond our capability, or beyond our will.  We are the unparalleled leader in planetary science, we are the only country to land an object on Mars that survived, and those are the people who are our neighbors working at the Jet Propulsion Lab.

So we’re fighting to restore funding for those efforts that pay so many dividends.  Not just in our understanding of the universe, but also here on the ground.

I met with a planetary scientist just today (28 Feb 2012)  who was telling me that thanks to NASA he is able to function, whereas 15 or 20 years ago, as result of having multiple seizures every day he was incapable of functioning.  But because of technologies developed through NASA,  laser technology,micro-surgical capacities, that he was able to have essentially brain surgery that cured his seizures and made him a fully functional contributor to society.

This is just one very graphic example of the dividends that we’ve had from the space program.  These incredible developments in lasers, in GPS technology,  and that has meant enormous economic dividends to the country.

So this is I think, not only an economic imperative, but also an area where we enjoy the respect of the entire world.  They watch what we do, they marvel at what we do, and that is not something we should walk away from lightly.

BurbankNBeyond:  With (legislation) like the INVEST Act, where we try to retain foreign students from CalTech, or Stanford, or from wherever it may be, do they (immigrants and foreign students) supplement our ability to accomplish those objectives that you’re talking about with NASA?  Do we have a shortfall or deficit in that intellectual capacity within our own country that we have to supplement with foreign students who are hungry?

Rep. Schiff:  It’s not that we have a deficit in the sense that our universities are producing brilliant scientists and engineers .  We just don’t have enough of them.  And in the kind of skill-based economy that we need, we need, we need to graduate more people in the sciences, mathematics, and engineering .

So just from a pure numbers point of view, China is graduating more than we are .  And eventually that catches up to you.

But more than that, we have been fortunate that some of the best and the brightest from other countries come here, and we’re able to add their talents to our own.

One of the things that’s so fascinating to see at the Jet Propulsion Lab where they have a glass booth where you can watch some of the pivotal events , like when one of the rovers lands on the surface and  you get to see the excitement and the tension as this multi-year, often very expensive project  either lands and succeeds, or crashes and burns.

You look down at that Mission Control, and what you see is the head of the lab itself, who is an American of Lebanese origin, you see the head of the Mars program who is an American of Iranian origin, you see people controlling the Rover – you know who are of Chinese descent , or people from all over the United States , and it’s like the Olympics of intellect , and we want to keep that collaboration going.

One of the concerns I have about JPL, if we lose the talent over there, and we decide that these flagship missions we’re poised to do, to go to Mars , collect a sample and bring it back.  If we decide we’re not going to do them now it may be decades before we can reassemble the talent to go back.

When you look at how we’re going to have to start all over again… Who could have imagined in the 70s that it would be decades before we’d even be in a position to go back to the moon?  And I’m concerned if we leave Mars now we may not go back for a long, long time.