JPL will spotlight its programs

This weekend NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory grounds will transform into a wonderland of information and exhibits at this year’s Open House, which will give the public an up-close look at the facility’s many space science projects and missions.

The free event, held Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., will feature a host of new exhibits and hands-on features, led by engineers and scientists who will discuss current projects related to this year’s theme, “The Excitement in Explorations.”

Open House is a JPL tradition that spans decades, though the event has grown over the years as new technologies in exploration and in imaging and visualization have progressed. More than 36,000 people attended last year’s event, according to Kim Lievense, manager of JPL's Office of Public Services and organizer of the event.

“We have more things to show,” Lievense said. “It’s the one time each year when everybody tries to bring out their favorite things and discuss them with the public. You could spend both days here and not see everything.”

Visitors will have a chance to see the newest Mars Rover, Curiosity, on display in a clean room before its launch date later this year. They can also take part in an interactive 3-D display called “Eyes on the Earth,” which features two touchscreens that control real-time views of the planet.

In a walk-through solar system exhibit, JPL details the history of recent missions, including the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) project designed to study the moon’s interior; the Cassini satellite photographing activity on Saturn’s moons; and Juno, which will launch this August for Jupiter with an arrival date of 2016.

Engineers and scientists in several departments spent days building the exhibits and are excited to share their work with the community, said Alice Wessen, manager of solar-system outreach at JPL.

“We really love what we do and we like to share it,” Wessen said. “Open House is our chance to be up-front-and-center and share with the public who come. It’s our way of giving back.”

Other attractions include the Robo-Dome—where 700-pound robots glide across a smooth floor on jets of air as part of a test to see if robots can be used in tandem to form telescopes in space—and a walk into a 25-foot environmental test chamber designed to simulate extraterrestrial conditions for testing spacecraft integrity.

“It was opened last year for the first time in years,” Lievense said of the chamber. “There’s nothing being tested now, which is why we can open it again.”

Veronica McGregor, JPL’s media relations and news manager, recommends La Cañada residents see the special exhibits at Open House but also schedule a free tour for another day to see the mission control and spacecraft assembly stations, which will likely be among this weekend’s most crowded displays.

For those who cannot attend, JPL will record live streaming videos from the event that can be viewed online at on Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon. For more information on JPL or this year’s Open House, including a list of restricted items and rules, visit or call (818) 354-0112.

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