It is surprising how few people know about JPL or Jet Propulsion Laboratory especially considering they developed the first American Satellite which also performed the first science experiments in space.
They also developed our first ICBM or Inter Continental Ballistic Missile but they now focus strictly on science and space exploration.
You have probably seen the JPL control room on the news when they celebrated the successful landing of a rover on Mars.
At JPL they are constantly working on sending satellites to the farthest edges of our solar system and monitoring the orbiters and rovers sent to other planets long ago. They have one which has been working in space for over 33 years so far.
For those of us who have heard of JPL most will be surprised to learn they offer a free tour which is among the best free things to do in Los Angeles.
It is a secretive facility so you must make a reservation well in advance so they can check you out and make sure you don’t actually work for Dr. Evil.
Their website will let you choose a date and time which works for you.
Make sure to bring your ID because they check it at the gate and at the beginning of the tour.
You can bring cameras and shoot pictures of almost anything you see.
The tour starts outside of what seems to be the welcome center with a small gift shop and interactive displays about our solar system to keep the kids busy while waiting for the tour to begin.
The first stop on the tour is an auditorium with ½ and full scale replicas of famous satellites JPL has sent into space. After a very informative presentation by our tour guide they played a great movie about JPL which is narrated by Mr. Harrison Ford so it feels like you are being guided through space by Han Solo.
Just outside the auditorium is an actual back up satellite which was made just in case the first one didn’t work properly.
They also have a great room full of interactive displays designed to teach you more about our universe and space exploration complete with a real moon rock.
From here large groups get divided into two and head to one of two different locations.
Our first stop was the clean room where they are always working on real spacecraft and satellites.
Today they were working on a new Mars Rover set to launch on November 25th of this year. They have a short window of opportunity and if they miss it they have to wait around two years for another opportunity to launch.
We got ample opportunity to take pictures and make fun of the large umpa lumpa looking technicians inside before moving on.
Our next stop was Mission Control where they constantly monitor satellites and rovers. During our visit they were controlling a Mars Orbiter and the Rover on Mars. It is incredible to think the people at those computer terminals are operating a vehicle on another planet.
Throughout the tour the guides demonstrate a great deal of knowledge and share a lot of really interesting facts like the gold disc on the front of Voyager uses the language of physics to provide instructions for operating the gold record underneath it.
The idea being if aliens have enough intelligence to get to it they will be smart enough to understand the directions.
The gold record has a message in 50 different languages and on the flip side there are pictures depicting our planet and human anatomy. The instructions also lay out a diagram to map out where Earth is.
Let’s hope aliens don’t see it as instructions on locating and preparing tasty humans.
Anyway the tour is jam packed with interesting factoids too numerous to restate here in this post so I’ll let the photos convince you to take the tour for yourself.
Since JPL is bordered by Angeles National Forest there are a lot of deer which have grown comfortable with humans roam the campus.
I call them the world’s smartest deer.
HOT TIP: At the end of the tour everyone bought mementos from the gift shop so shopping at the beginning of the tour is hassle free by comparison.
All in all the tour of JPL is one of the best free things to do In Los Angeles and I’d recommend it to anyone.
To book a free tour click here: www.jpl.nasa.gov/events/tours/
View JPL in a larger map
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