Deep Inside NASA’s JPL

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).

Unmanned Spacecraft Mission Control: must’ve been taken on a Sunday, since there’s hardly anyone there. Note the display (with antennas) in the upper right corner. More on that in a moment. (Click to see this photo [much!] larger. All photos on this page are my screencaps from the Virtual Tour.)
The landing place of the JPL Virtual Tour is the Unmanned Spacecraft Mission Control center, where I have been. It’s such a beautiful photo, but here’s the best part: you can use your mouse (or finger, on a mobile or tablet) to move around and look any direction. Any direction? Yes: including straight up or down. How the camera is mounted I don’t know yet, but be sure to look down and see the “Center of the Universe”:

The plaque embedded in the floor declares the middle of the Space Flight Operations Facility (the formal name of “Mission Control”) to be The Center of the Universe — and, though you can’t see it in this angle, it adds, “dare mighty things”.

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!

“Deep Space Network Now” it says. They mean that literally.

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.”

Awesome. 🙂

If You Somehow Missed the Link in the text to go immerse yourself in the inside view: JPL Virtual Tour.

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4 Comments on “Deep Inside NASA’s JPL

  1. Way Cool! Thanks for the heads up, Randy. A bit nicer environment than Houston in the old moon launch days. But then, it’s better equipment, too.

  2. Ack, Malwarebytes doesn’t like the link.

    It’s totally safe to disregard that particular — and ridiculous — warning. -rc

  3. What an amazing site, with so many nooks and crannies packed with informative videos and other gems! I showed it to my wife (who’s teaching remotely now) and she shared it with her students who are now really getting such things as how you represent the relative sizes and distances of the planets, and how Rover was safely landed on Mars… remotely (in the ‘7 Minutes of Terror’ video). Brilliant! Thanks Randy for helping us get what NASA and JPL have done and are doing!

    Yep, that’s why I was encouraging readers to explore with their mouse: a lot of thought went into this! -rc


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