A friend who works as an aeronautical engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada, California (just above the Rose Bowl near Pasadena) offered to give us a tour of the campus. We said yes!
There is a considerable amount of security, as there should be for a partnership between CalTech and NASA that does research for space and “security programs”. We started our tour at a kind of visitor’s center. We walked past a herd of deer placidly lounging on the grass completely unperturbed.
The place is empty on a Saturday. It is easy to imagine what a weekday might be like with every cubicle full, and engineers conducting experiments in the viewing areas. Our host, John Luke, showed us one area that they use to figure out how to get the Mars Rover unstuck. However, it also looks like the perfect sound stage if you wanted to fake a Mars landing! All the conspiracy theorists who think we have never been to the moon would love it.
I found the organization of the place fascinating from the kinetic sculptures to the tennis court sized area for larger drop tests. I love their motto: Dare Mighty Things. John Luke works on the Mars Landing team. He is very enthusiastic about the designs they are devising to ensure the Rover makes a soft landing.
You do not have to know a rocket scientist to tour JPL. Public tours are available and if funding approves they will resume their annual open house in June. (Like Disneyland for aspiring scientists!)