JPL Open House 2012 Was a BLAST!

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) holds an annual open house, and we were smart enough to calendar the dates and attend. This year’s event was held June 9 and 10, 2012.

One weekend a year, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) holds a free and public open house at their property in Pasadena, CA. Part of the California Institute of Technology campus since the 1930s, JPL operates mostly in private and far, far away from the public eye, but on two days of the year, JPL opens their doors to us non-rocket scientists so we can get a peek inside a few of our national space and technology programs.

Father-and-son duo C and T are ready to go explore JPL’s Open House 2012! T got that space suit from C after he went on a business trip last summer to Washington D.C. and attended a special event at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

From signage: “Aquarius/SAC-D will make NASA’s first space observations of sea-surface salinity.” This satellite (just a model on display here) also celebrated a first birthday on the weekend of JPL’s Open House 2012,  (launched June 10, 2011), with staff giving out special commemorative pins for the milestone.

A full-scale model of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover, Curiosity, on display during JPL’s Open House 2012.

T readies up to view some of the 3-D dioramas and pictorial collages at JPL’s Open House 2012.

Just one of the 3-D photographic displays at JPL’s Open House 2012. As caption inset reads, scientists created this panorama from dozens if not hundreds of still photos of the Martian landscape as taken by Mars rover cameras during a “winter season” near the McMurdo Crater in 2006. This and other 3-D photos are on JPL’s website and can be viewed with 3-D glasses on-screen.

“The Voyage” was the name of the first-annual interactive mobile scavenger hunt (free for all visitors) at JPL’s Open House 2012.

The theme of JPL’s open house this year was “Great Journeys.” The event featured various space developments, mysteries, and discoveries through numerous high-def and 3-D videos, live demonstrations, interactions with scientists and engineers, a preview of JPL’s new Earth Science Center, and their first ever mobile phone Scavenger Hunt. Through these “sites” (as the exhibits were called), visitors got to travel into the great beyond and be a rocket scientist for the day. Far out!

Kids let Athlete, a prototype robot in the Mars rover family, roll off their backs. This was just one of several interactive kids’ exhibits on display at JPL’s Open House 2012.

What are these kids looking at, RMT’ers? Just one of several captivating moments during JPL’s Open House 2012.

Oh, so this is what T was so interested in! A JPL scientist creates a “cloud in a bottle” to explain how evaporation, pressure, and other physics plays a part in the formation of clouds in Earth’s atmosphere.

JPL also hosted several hands-on (and body-on) activities for the youngest space rangers in attendance. From a model Mars Rover driving over a group of kids to a scientist captivating children’s attention by whipping up a cloud in a bottle, everyone working at this event made sure that none of the science went too far over anyone’s heads, especially the kids. As one of the lines in a movie we saw on-site mentioned, we’re all essentially star dust; if that’s not putting space well within our grasp, I don’t know what is!

Hand-out maps along with easy-to-read directional signs like this one effortlessly guided visitors through the JPL campus at this year’s open house (2012).

Despite some long lines and crowds at times, JPL managed to run a very smooth, fun, and informative large-scale event! This was the 20-minute-or-so line we waited in to see the movie, “Journey to the Planets and Beyond,” which was a 25-minute film on our solar system and other neighboring celestial bodies.

No matter how many people there were inside some of the exhibits, JPL managed to control the crowds very well. This was in what they dubbed the “Earth Site” for short, or the “Earth: Your Future; Our Mission” area, at this year’s JPL Open House (2012).

RMT’ers, if you learn about the dates for the 2013 event, please plan to attend! This FREE event is one of the best free mass-public events I think our family’s ever attended. JPL runs an organized, informative, and fun event for all-ages. Despite the long lines and massive crowds (estimated at over 35,000 per day of the two-day event), somehow JPL staff and volunteers managed to keep things running smoothly. There also were dozens if not hundreds of docents scattered amongst each of the 22 official exhibit sites and throughout the property, all prepared and at the ready to answer any and all questions visitors had regarding anything space-related.

T calls up some Saturn-ites (is that what they’d be called?) from JPL’s Open House 2012.

Is anyone there? T was really into listening to Saturn facts at JPL’s Open House. When I asked him why, he told me Saturn was “Grandma S’s planet.” C and I have no idea what that means, but maybe she does!

It’s Grandma S’s planet – AKA Saturn – at the von Karman Visitor Center at JPL.

Have an out-of-this-world weekend, RMT’ers!

P.S. – And to those RMT dads out there… have a wonderful Fathers Day weekend, too!

UPDATE (as of June 2014): According to JPL’s website, their Open House Weekend will return after a one-year hiatus later this year! Save the dates of the weekend of October 11-12, 2014 for this out-of-this-world event. I know we will!