These weekends were exciting for families and friends of wisenheimer working at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL, NASA). There was no need to cajole me to attend since I always wanted to visit this Engineering center where my husband does his postdoctoral research.
Before I knew a little about what was happening there because during ordinary days even family members are not allowed to enter the JPL facility without accompanying of authorized person (not husband or friend working there) who would spend his or her precious time to follow you.
Early bird catches the worm and escapes the huge lines at the entrance=). Our tickets were for the entrance at 8.30 am, pretty early but we have explored the whole facility by 2 pm before it got too hot and crowded.
At the exit from the parking we were met by a friendly sheriff and other officers of JPL police, they were showing our way to the facility.
JPL has everything on its territory: police, fire station, shuttles. No need to interact with ordinary world at all =)
This technology realm was full of robots, machines, curious children but not food. By the end of our walk, we were just starving.
Our first point of interest was Mars Yard where the machines and rovers have to be tested before they land to other planet or space object. Having pretty compact size Mars Yard has a number of different types of rocks, compound soil to reproduce the conditions those on Mars.
Space missions cost billions of dollars and before anything to be launched from the Earth it has to be tested until all the risks to be calculated and design to be developed to fulfill weight, safety, durability criteria.
Wheels are tested on different rocks, with full equipment. 6 wheels used for Curiosity made of aluminum alloy with individual steering motors and contain Morse code of acronym JPL. Below the developed design of a wheel.
The rover above is Curiosity-type rover which is still on Mars. I would encourage to watch a video about the landing mechanism of this rover and the investigation technics used. It is been almost 5 years since Curiosity landed on the surface of Mars helping scientists and engineers understand better the structure of the planet. We have seen a short demonstration of how the rover moves on the surface and rocks and it has a low velocity of about 2.5 meters per minute. Before any move the multiple cameras make the surface recognition to prevent falling, stumbling.
Spacecraft Assembly Facility
The next facility is where all the space crafts are got assembled in a super-clean room: 10,000 particles of 0.5 microns or larger in size per cubic foot of air volume. Perfect place for people suffering allergies. This facility operates since 1961 and all the spacecraft that were assembled here are shown on the wall.
Microdevices Lab (MDL)
This is the place where tiny makes difference. Here scientists and engineers discover new methods of nanodevices fabrication and implementation. Also, there are a number of technics used to enhance the resolution of telescopes. Also, detectors that will be used for the space missions are also designed here. Real micro rock-n-roll!
Center of the Universe
Our last stop was Space Flight Operations Facility where all space missions all over the world are monitored by Deep Space Network’s (3 antennae located in Spain, Australia and California). People in the mission control center are in charge of every data from any spacecraft and keep monitoring every mission 24/7. At least 5 people have to remain in the center at a time.
One of the employees shared a story about “lucky peanut” tradition and how it was spread all over industries for the last years =) and also he told that Mission Control Center is a popular place to make a proposal.I bet that no woman would not say No in the Center of the Universe.
JPL open house day
Once a year JPL opens its doors to the public and ticket get reserved very fast on the first come first serve basis, so it is better to check for updates. All the information can be found here.