By Jason KUROSU
Jet Propulsion Laboratory held its annual open house last weekend, a two-day event titled “The Excitement of Exploration” in which the lab opened its doors to the public. With admission being free, lines to enter the various buildings on site seemed like something one would see at Disneyland, snaking around buildings with long waits.
Visitors were anxious to see firsthand the technology utilized by JPL’s scientists and engineers, many of who were present to speak with visitors and answer questions. The attractions were split up into various themes such as Earth, Mars, the Solar System and the Universe. There were also various attractions specifically for children like the Mars Exploration in which a miniature Mars rover rolled over the backs of the visiting Earthlings.
The Open House was also an opportunity for JPL to showcase its newest and upcoming missions. As visitors entered JPL, moving replicas of Opportunity, the rover that has been in operation since 2004, and the Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity, which is expected to launch in November of this year, could be seen rolling over rocks with ease, as they would on the surface of Mars.
A non-moving full-scale model of the MSL Curiosity was also on display in the Mars Science Laboratory, complete with the cameras and other equipment not present on the moving replica.
Other future launches include the Dawn spacecraft, which will orbit the giant asteroid Vestal, the Aquarius satellite, which will make maps of varying salt concentration in Earth’s oceans, the Juno mission to Jupiter and the twin GRAIL spacecrafts to our moon.
The Mars rovers generated the majority of the interest though. The Spacecraft Assembly Facility perpetually drew long lines of people wanting to see the “clean room” in which the MSL Curiosity is being assembled and tested. Shuttles took visitors to the 25-foot Environmental Test Chamber, where the rovers are tested for their ability to withstand the extreme conditions of outer space. The In-Situ Instrument Laboratory showed visitors a simulated Mars environment where engineers tested commands and situations that could present themselves to the rovers while on Mars.
While ongoing space exploration may be in question, the packed Open House is a good indicator that the public still holds a strong interest in the program’s continuation.
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