Today my wife and I, together with our youngest daughter, trekked over to the vicinity of Pasadena to attend the annual JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) Open House. It was scheduled to run from 9 AM until 4 PM today (Saturday, October 10, 2015). We got to the vicinity of JPL about 9 AM only to find that it was, to say the least, unusually crowded. After enduring a major traffic jam, we finally found a place to park about a mile and a half or so from the facility.
Given that my family and I have Fitbits and try to maximize how far we walk every day (our goal is 10,000 steps, which works out to about five miles) we didn’t mind the hoof.
We had a great time, visiting all the exhibits, which included full-sized, operational models of the Curiosity and Opportunity rovers. Curiosity landed on Mars in 2012; it’s a nuclear powered vehicle that is the size of a small car. Opportunity is considerably smaller, having arrived on Mars back in 2004; its planned operational lifetime had been only 90 days. It’s still performing like a champ with no end in sight after 11 years of continuous operation. Too bad JPL doesn’t build automobiles. One of the things my daughter got to participate in was having a small rover—no larger than a child’s wagon, crawl over her and several other people who volunteered to lie on their stomachs.
There were also exhibits for all the other, 30 plus unscrewed space probes that JPL controls, included Kepler, which has discovered thousands of planets in orbit around other stars, Dawn, which is currently in orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres, and Juno, which is a new mission that is due to reach Jupiter next year.
The estimate for the number of visitors at JPL today was 25,000. The open house will continue on Sunday, also from 9 to 4.
I find it very encouraging to know that there are so many people that interested in the U.S. space program—people of all ages, genders, and ethnicities. It gives me hope for our future.