Perhaps it is our particular mindset, but we have never been on the JPL campus without imagining it to be a James Bond set: the park-like grounds the seem so peaceful…until somebody in there presses the launch button, and then all hell breaks loose. That, of course, is absurd. The truth is that within the confines of this bucolic setting, thousands of scientists and engineers have created robotic craft and probes for NASA that have explored eight of the named planets, all but Pluto and Eris, and peered out at the universe beyond. And in case you think these brainiacs are unlikely to be fun at a picnic, please be informed that JPL mechanical engineer Lonnie Johnson, while working on thermodynamic systems for Galileo and Mars Observer projects, inadvertently invented the SuperSoaker. So not only would he be fun at a picnic, he could afford to bring the champagne—and the good stuff at that!
A federal facility, JPL is managed by Caltech for NASA. Its pedigree can be traced back to the 19030s, with the rocket-propulsion experiments of Caltech physicist and engineer Theodore von Karman. It would be difficult to overstate the enormity of JPL’s contribution to America’s space program: Surveyor, Voyager, Galileo and Mars Pathfinder, to name just a few.
JPL offers free tours with advance reservation, and we highly recommend a visit. This is yet another fantastic Pasadena resource. (Okay—technically most of the 170-plus-acre campus is in La Cañada, but a few buildings, as well as the main gate, are in Pasadena, so we claim it for our own.)
4800 Oak Grove Dr., Pasadena
Tour reservations: 818.354.9314