Today I went to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) open house in Pasadena. I have always been interested in the space program, intensely so, since I was a teenager, but I never really got involved. I drove to Cape Canaveral once, but didn’t have enough time to go in an take a proper tour, so I just saw the public museum part. I drove by the astronaut training center in Houston, but also didn’t have time for a tour. I never saw a rocket or shuttle launch or landing and never went to Palmdale.
I spent all day at JPL. There was more there to do and see than you can fit into a day. Unfortunately, there were thousands of people, and by afternoon, all venues had lines 30 minutes or longer to get in. The best time to be there was in the morning.
If you are a scientist, JPL is at the pinnacle of places to work. It was obvious that the people that worked there and showed off their projects and jobs were all proud of it. JPL basically drives the unmanned space program. All the robotic missions to low-earth orbit, to the moon and to all the solar system destinations had their origins there. The spacecraft get designed, built, assembled and tested there. Once en route, the mission control center tracks them, communicates with them, and receives their data.
For me, the most exciting part was seeing life-sized replica or models of the various spacecraft I have followed throughout my life, starting with the Voyager 1 and 2 craft, launched in 1977, which are now the only two man-made objects to ever leave the solar system, going to the Cassini and Galileo, and of course including many types of rovers and landers, most notably those on Mars in recent years.
JPL is a place where a man my age can still dream. You see passion in the faces of the people that work there. I left overwhelmed by the fact that there is so much more to do and so much more to learn. There are lifetimes of work left just to scratch the surface.
And I am but a distant passer-by.