A Day At The JPL

I decided to start Tech Volo on August 7th, a day after the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena helped Curiosity touch down on Mars.

Well, almost a month later, I found myself going to the JPL on a school field trip!

Making our way into the JPL.

Like most field trips, there was a reason for the visit. In this case, I am taking a class called “The Process of Change in Science” which also focuses on the advances that Curiosity will (hopefully) be making during the course of this semester. We’ve only had two lectures so far, but I’m already hooked.

Randii Wessen, a USC grad and also our exceptional tour guide for the day, took us around the JPL. Wessen started as an intern at the JPL which helped him land a job here. Since then, he has worked on projects such as the Cassini Program and the Navigator Program, just to name a few. He was a recipient of NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal.

Wessen taught us more than a couple of things about everything that the JPL has worked on, as well as plans for the future. For example, scientists are trying to figure out what plants on other planets would look like based on Earth’s own flora. We’re talking orange and black plants depending on the amount of light absorbed by plants!

Above is a photo of the Mars Science Laboratory. Quoting Wessen, it’s the best place to work when you have Hay Fever because this lab is extremely immaculate. Dust levels, yes, DUST levels are kept to an extreme minimum. This means showers and masks and everything and anything to keep the lab spotless!

The Indoor Mars Yard

The Indoor Mars Yard is where the team ran tests on a second version of Curiosity. See the camouflage netting on each side of the backdrop? Because rovers are taught to avoid edges on other planets (edges could mean cliffs or something of the like), the test Curiosity would go around in circles, doing its best to avoid the edges of the backdrop. So how did the team solve this problem? They put camouflage netting on each side so that the test Curiosity would stop running away from the edges!

And of course, this tour would not have been complete without a look at the beautiful, elegant and mind-blowingly efficient and impressive mission control room and a glimpse of where, just less than a month ago, a team of extremely talented folks helped Curiosity touch down onto Mars. This photo does not do justice — being so close to a place that did something so revolutionary and remarkable gave everyone goosebumps.

The tour was extremely eye-opening. I have never been much of a space buff, but after this tour, I really wanted to learn more about space and everything that NASA and the JPL are trying to accomplish in space and the universe. So if you’re ever in the Pasadena area, I highly recommend going on a free public tour at the JPL. You can RSVP for a tour here.

Have a great weekend everyone!

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