As a special treat for myself, I recently escaped from the Teknynja Cave to visit JPL's 2010 Open House. This was my first time visiting Jet Propulsion Laboratory or the open house event, and it was even better than I expected. As a science and space enthusiast, there where plenty of things to see. What I didn't expect was the festival atmosphere and all the activities and displays for kids and families. There was plenty of booths selling kettle corn, hamburgers & hot dogs, frozen lemonade and other treats, and the smells were like that of any “normal” festival.
My first stop of the day was the Space Flight Operations Facility, the “Mission Control” room, where spacecraft like the Viking, Pioneer, Voyager and the Mars Rovers have been monitored and controlled. It was exciting to see this room with so much history (and to be in the presence of so many computer monitors).
Next up was a short shuttle bus trip to the 25 Foot Space Simulator facility, a giant environmental chamber that simulates the conditions found in space or on other planets. Spacecraft are placed inside the simulator and subjected to the vacuum and heat of space. You can walk around inside the huge chamber, and I also enjoyed checking out the control room for the simulator.
One of the highlights of my trip was visiting the Spacecraft Assembly Facility, a enormous clean room where JPL's probes and landers are built. It was especially exciting for me to see the Mars Science Laboratory (still in several pieces), which is scheduled to arrive on Mars in 2012.
The big draw for me though, was the Hubble Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 exhibit, which displays the actual camera that flew on the Hubble telescope from 2002 until 2009. Being this close to actual space hardware was an amazing experience! It is difficult to really see it in this photo, as it is enclosed in a protective nitrogen gas environment. This exhibit is the centerpiece of the new museum on the JPL campus, that contains dozens of models of probes, rovers, and landers.
At this point in my visit, the lines were starting to get very long, but I didn't mind. My next stop was the Spacecraft Fabrication Facility, where the components for spacecraft are machined and manufactured. The amount of manufacturing and machining technology in this building is overwhelming, and the tables showing example parts was very impressive.
I finally ended up at the Micro Devices Laboratory, where they do everything from create nano-sized machines to electronic chip fabrication. There was plenty to see there, but this room caught my eye - this would be my dream office, with wires and electronic equipment everywhere. Maybe someday...
I wrapped up my trip taking in the architecture and the festival scene before hitting the “gift shop” to pick up a tee shirt and some swag for the kids. I really only hit about half the activities at the open house, but saw what I came to see and more. I'll have to go again, and next time I'll probably bring the young'ins along as well.