Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. The facility is located in the City of La Canada Flintridge near the northern border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory's primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA's Deep Space Network. Among its current projects are the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn, the Mars Exploration Rovers (Spirit and Opportunity), 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 (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) traces its history back to 1936, when the first set of rocket experiments were carried out in the Arroyo Seco. Caltech graduate students Frank Malina, Weld Arnold, Apollo M. O. Smith, and Tsien Hsue-shen, along with Jack Parsons and Edward Forman, tested a small, alcohol fueled motor to gather data for Malina's graduate thesis. Malina's thesis advisor was aerodynamicist Theodore von Karman, who eventually arranged for U.S. Army financial support for this "GALCIT Rocket Project" in 1939. In 1941, Malina, Parsons, Forman, Martin Summerfield, and pilot Homer Bushey demonstrated the first JATO rockets to the Army. In 1943, Von Karman, Malina, Parsons, and Forman established the Aerojet Corporation to manufacture JATO motors, and the following year JPL formally became an Army facility operated under contract by Caltech.[1]

During JPL's Army years, the Laboratory developed two deployed weapon systems, the MGM-5 Corporal and MGM-29 Sergeant intermediate range ballistic missiles. It also developed a number of other weapons system prototypes, such as the Loki anti-aircraft missile system, and the forerunner of the Aerobee sounding rocket. At various times, it carried out rocket testing at the White Sands Proving Ground, Edwards Air Force Base, and Goldstone, California.

In 1954, JPL teamed up with Wernher von Braun’s rocketeers at the Army Ballistic Missile Agency’s Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, to propose orbiting a satellite during the International Geophysical Year. The team lost that proposal to Project Vanguard, and instead embarked on a classified project to demonstrate ablative re-entry technology using a Jupiter-C rocket. They carried out three successful sub-orbital flights in 1956 and 1957. Using a spare Jupiter-C, the two organizations then launched America’s first satellite, Explorer 1, on February 1, 1958.[2]

After NASA was founded in October 1958, JPL transferred to it and became the agency’s primary planetary spacecraft center. JPL engineers designed and operated 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.[2]

JPL has been recognized four times by the Space Foundation: with the Douglas S. Morrow Public Outreach Award, which is given annually to an individual or organization that has made significant contributions to public awareness of space programs, in 1998; and with the John L. "Jack" Swigert, Jr., Award for Space Exploration on three occasions - in 2009 (as part of NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander Team[3]), 2006 and 2005.

Rocket landscaping

When founded, JPL's site was a rocky flood-plain just outside the city limits of Pasadena. Almost all of the 177 acres (72 ha) of the U.S. federal government/NASA owned property that makes up the JPL campus is today 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. 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, with Pasadena citing tax revenue as one of the issues.


There are approximately 5,000 full-time Caltech employees, and typically a few thousand additional contractors working on any given day, many from the nearby University of Southern California.[4]. 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 [5], they would be deemed to have "voluntarily resigned"[6]. 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 [7]. NASA appealed and the US Supreme Court granted cert on March 8, 2010.

Open House
A display at the Open House on May 19, 2007.

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.[8]

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.[9]

Other works

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.Funding

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 worldwide Deep Space Network, with facilities in California's Mojave Desert, in Spain near Madrid, and in Australia near Canberra.

Peanuts tradition

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 Ranger mission to impact the moon occurred while a JPL staff member was eating peanuts. The staff jokingly decided that the peanuts must have been a good luck charm and the tradition persisted. [10][11]

These are some of the missions partially sponsored by JPL[12]:

* Explorer program
* Ranger program
* Surveyor program
* Mariner program
* Pioneer 3 & 4
* Viking program
* Voyager program
* Magellan probe
* Galileo probe
* Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2
* Deep Space 1 & 2
* Mars Global Surveyor
* Mars Climate Orbiter
* Cassini-Huygens
* Stardust
* Mars Odyssey
* Mars Pathfinder
* Mars Exploration Rover Mission
* Spitzer Space Telescope
* Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
* Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE)
* CloudSat
* Phoenix (spacecraft)
* Ocean Surface Topography Mission (OSTM/Jason-2)
* Orbiting Carbon Observatory
* Mars Science Laboratory
* Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer
* Outer Planets Mission Analysis Group is the group within JPL that is responsible for the design of missions to the outer planets (the planets beyond Mars). Besides being responsible for mission design tasks, this group also develops the mathematical techniques and software tools required for designing and optimizing interplanetary trajectories.

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 [13]


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".[14]

1. ^ Clayton Koppes, "JPL and the American Space Program," (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982); [Erik M. Conway, "From Rockets to Spacecraft: Making JPL a Place for Planetary Science," Engineering and Science, vol. 30, nr. 4, pp. 2-10]
2. ^ a b Clayton Koppes, "JPL and the American Space Program," (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982); Erik M. Conway, "From Rockets to Spacecraft: Making JPL a Place for Planetary Science," Engineering and Science, vol. 30, nr. 4, pp. 2-10.
3. ^
4. ^
5. ^ Standard Form 85 with Authorization for Release of Information
6. ^ Declaration of Cozette Hart, JPL Human Resources Director
7. ^ Nelson v. NASA -- Preliminary Injunction issued by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
8. ^ "JPL Open House". Retrieved 2 January 2009.
9. ^ "Planetary Science Summer School". Retrieved 2008-05-14.
10. ^ "NPR All Things Considered interview referring to peanuts tradition". Retrieved 2009-01-03.
11. ^ "Planetary Society chat log for Phoenix referring to peanuts tradition". Retrieved 2009-01-03.
12. ^ NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory: Missions
13. ^ JPL Directors
14. ^

Further reading

* Official website
* JPL's iPhone optimized mobile site
* JPL's mobile site (all other mobile devices)
* Jet Propulsion Laboratory is at coordinates 34°11′59″N 118°10′29″W / 34.1996350°N 118.1746540°W / 34.1996350; -118.1746540 (Jet Propulsion Laboratory)Coordinates: 34°11′59″N 118°10′29″W / 34.1996350°N 118.1746540°W / 34.1996350; -118.1746540 (Jet Propulsion Laboratory)
* MG Lord (2005). Astro Turf: The Private Life Of Rocket Science. New York: Walker & Company. ISBN 0-8027-1427-7.

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