Years Ago, I’d Get Early Notice of public tours coming up at my old workplace, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and tip off readers. It’s a lot easier to get that info in recent years so I haven’t bothered, but then …Covid. No tours. Except these days, the quality of “virtual tours” has increased so much that you can actually “go” places that you can’t go even if there was a public tour.
In fact, you can go places I’ve never been able to go, even when I worked there, such as the clean-room floor of the Spacecraft Assembly Facility, which I’ve only been able to see from a sealed-off viewing area. While there, you’ll see mission plaques on the wall: you can click them to find out what mission it is, and what it did (or, as the case may be, is doing).
It’s easier if you use a mouse so you can “hover” over things in the photos: if a frame comes up around an object, you can click it to get details about what you’re looking at.
For instance, I clicked on the display at Mission Control of the Deep Space Network status screen. It doesn’t just give a close-up, it gives the current real-time version of that display. When I clicked it, it showed all three of the DSN facilities (Madrid, Spain; Goldstone, Calif.; and Canberra, Australia) had at least some activity.
That display is interactive too: at random I clicked DSS 36, an antenna in Canberra, to discover it was downloading data from Voyager 2, which at the moment was 18.97 billion km (11.79 billion miles) from Earth; currently traveling at about 34,391 mph (or 9.55 miles per second — both measurements relative to the sun), it gets more than 825,000 miles farther away every day. Mind-boggling!
Reach Out and Touch Someone
I love that JPL has an Outreach office: back in the day, it was part of NASA’s charter (and thus their budget) to provide information to the public about what they were doing. You know, we who are paying for all of this?! NASA as a whole is putting much less emphasis on outreach, but JPL is trying the best they can with their limited budget. That’s where the annual-or-more tours come in. Can’t do the tours? Then they decided to put that budget into creating this very cool resource.
What I wondered: will this be expanded over time? “Seeing JPL from the inside is an amazing experience, and we hope this virtual tour creates the same sense of wonder,” said Veronica McGregor, manager of JPL’s Digital News and Media Office. “We plan to expand the tour with more locations later this year so people can return over and over.”
If You Somehow Missed the Link in the text to go immerse yourself in the inside view: JPL Virtual Tour.
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