Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a NASA research center located in the cities of Pasadena and La Cañada Flintridge, near Los Angeles, California, USA. Managed by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), it builds and operates unmanned spacecraft for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Among its current projects are the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and the Spitzer Space Telescope.
JPL's Space Flight Operations Facility and Twenty-five-foot Space Simulator are designated National Historic Landmarks.
JPL dates back to the 1930s, when Caltech professor Theodore von Kármán
began running rocket propulsion experiments at the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory
on the site. JPL was co-founded in 1944 with rocket scientists Tsien Hsue-shen
and Jack Parsons
, which has led some to affectionately refer to it as the Jack Parsons Lab
. Despite its name, JPL has always been focused on developing and building rocket engines
, not turbojets or other air-breathing jet engines
; rockets were often called "jets" or "ramjets" before the mid-1940s. During World War II
, the United States Army Air Forces
asked JPL to analyze the V2 rockets
that were developed by Nazi Germany
, as well as work on other projects for the war effort.
From this study, JPL developed the Corporal missile. This project later evolved into the Sergeant Rocket until it was discontinued in 1977.
By 1958, JPL's government affiliation was transferred to the new National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and JPL's current mission of unmanned spaceflight began. JPL engineers designed and built the Explorers, the U.S.'s first artificial satellites, as well as the unmanned Ranger and Surveyor missions to the Moon that prepared the way for Apollo. JPL also led the way in interplanetary exploration with the Mariner missions to Venus, Mars, and Mercury. In the 1970s, the more sophisticated Viking missions were sent to Mars, and the Voyager missions were sent to Jupiter, Saturn, and beyond. The 1990s saw the Magellan mission to map Venus, the Galileo mission to orbit and intensively study Jupiter, and a new array of Mars missions including Mars Pathfinder and Mars Global Surveyor. Currently, JPL operates the Cassini-Huygens mission to orbit and intensively study Saturn, the Stardust mission to collect cometary dust, the Spitzer Space Telescope, and three missions currently at Mars (Mars Odyssey, the Mars Exploration Rovers, and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter).
Almost all of the of the U.S. federal government/NASA owned property that makes up the JPL campus is actually located in the city of La Cañada Flintridge, California, but it maintains a Pasadena address (4800 Oak Grove Drive, Pasadena, CA 91109). The city of La Cañada Flintridge, California was incorporated in 1976, well after JPL attained international recognition with a Pasadena address. Reasons for retaining the Pasadena address may include consistency over time, consistency with Caltech (most employees are Caltech employees and JPL is managed for NASA by Caltech), greater national and international recognition of the place name (relating in part to the Rose Bowl and the Rose Parade), and the simplicity of the address given that La Cañada Flintridge is one of the longest city names in the United States. There has been periodic conflict between the two cities over the issue of which should be mentioned in the media as the home of the laboratory.
There are approximately 5,000 full-time Caltech employees, and typically a few thousand additional contractors working on any given day. NASA also has a resident office at the facility staffed by federal managers who oversee JPL's activities and work for NASA. There are also some Caltech graduate students
, college student interns and co-op students. Caltech and JPL jointly offer research opportunities for students, such as the SURF program (Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship).
On August 30, 2007, a group of JPL employees filed suit in federal court against NASA, Caltech, and the Department of Commerce, claiming their Constitutional rights were being violated by new background investigations. Employees were told that if they did not sign an unlimited waiver of privacy , they would be deemed to have "voluntarily resigned. Ostensibly, the rebadging rules were designed to make JPL compliant with FIPS 201. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found the process violated the employees' privacy rights and has issued a preliminary injunction .
Open House days
The lab has an open house once a year on a Saturday and Sunday in May, when the public is invited to tour the facilities and see live demonstrations of JPL science and technology. More limited private tours are also available throughout the year if scheduled well in advance. Thousands of schoolchildren from Southern California and elsewhere visit the lab every year.
The 2007 Open House took place on May 19-20, 2007 and featured new missions like Dawn Mission and Juno.
The 2008 Open House took place on May 3rd and 4th.
To learn more, go to jpl.nasa.gov
Planetary Science Summer School
The Planetary Science Summer School (PSSS) is an annual workshop sponsored by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The program involves an one-week team design exercise developing an early mission concept study, working with JPL's Advanced Projects Design Team ("Team X") and other concurrent engineering teams.
In addition to its government work, JPL has also assisted the nearby motion picture and television industries, by advising them about scientific accuracy in their productions. Science fiction shows advised by JPL include Babylon 5
and its sequel series Crusade
JPL is a federally funded research and development center
(FFRDC) managed and operated by Caltech under a contract from NASA. JPL-run projects include the Galileo
mission to Jupiter
and its moons
, the Mars rovers
(including the 1997 Mars Pathfinder
and the twin 2003 Mars Exploration Rovers
). JPL has sent unmanned missions to every planet
in our Solar System
. JPL has also conducted extensive mapping missions of Earth
. JPL manages the world-wide Deep Space Network
, with facilities in California's Mojave Desert
, in Spain
, and in Australia
There is a tradition at JPL to eat "good luck peanuts
" before critical mission events, such as orbital insertions or landings. As the story goes, after the Ranger program
had experienced failure after failure during the 1960s, the first successful mission of the Ranger program
landed on the Moon while a JPL staffer was munching on peanuts. The staff jokingly decided that the peanuts must have been a good luck charm and the tradition persists today.
These are some of the missions partially sponsored by JPL
List of directors
- Dr. Theodore von Kármán, 1938 – 1944
- Dr. Frank Malina, 1944 – 1946
- Dr. Louis Dunn, 1946 – October 1, 1954
- Dr. William Hayward Pickering, October 1, 1954 – March 31, 1976
- Dr. Bruce C. Murray, April 1, 1976 – June 30, 1982
- Dr. Lew Allen, Jr., July 22, 1982 – December 31, 1990
- Dr. Edward C. Stone, January 1, 1991 – April 30, 2001
- Dr. Charles Elachi, May 1, 2001 – Present
The JPL Advanced Projects Design Team, also known as "Team X", is an interdisciplinary team of engineers that "utilizes concurrent engineering methodologies to complete rapid design, analysis and evaluation of mission concept designs". Current members include:
- ACS - Peter Meakin and Sohrab Mobasser
- CDS - James Naegle and Yutao He
- Cost - Charles Baker
- Deputy Systems - Sarah Hornbeck
- EDL - William Strauss
- Ground Systems - Susan Barry and Gregory Welz
- Instruments - Marc Walch
- Logistics - Melissa Vick
- Mechanical - Steve Kondos
- Mission Design - Try Lam
- Planetary Protection - Laura Newlin
- Power - Ronald Hall and Paul Stella
- Risk - Julie Wertz and Samantha Infeld
- Propulsion - Dick Cowley
- Science - Bill Smythe and Kenneth Lawrence
- Software - Cin-Young Lee
- Systems - Stacey Boland
- Telecom - David Hansen and Michael Pugh
- Thermal - Donald Strayer
- Comet Science - Paul Weissman
- MG Lord (2005). Astro Turf: The Private Life Of Rocket Science. New York: Walker & Company.