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JPL builds and designs many of NASA's space projects.

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JPL is based in Pasadena and La Caņada Flintridge, near Los Angeles, California, USA. JPL builds and operates unmanned spacecraft for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

History of JPL.

JPL logo.
JPL logo.
The JPL complex in Pasadena, Ca. Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.
JPL Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.
The control room in JPL Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.

JPL dates back to the 1930s. JPL was established when Caltech professor Theodore von Karman began running rocket propulsion experiments at the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory on the site. JPL was co-founded in 1944 with rocket scientists Tsien Hsue-shen and Jack Parsons, which has led some to affectionately refer to it as the "Jack Parsons Lab." (Despite its name, JPL had not been concerned with work on turbojets or other air-breathing jet engines: Rocket engines were often called "jets" or "ramjets" before the mid-1940s.) During World War II, the United States Army Air Forces asked JPL to analyze the V2 rockets that were developed by Nazi Germany, as well as work on other projects for the war effort. From this study, JPL developed the Corporal missile. This project later evolved into the Sergeant Rocket until it was discontinued in 1958.

By 1958, JPL's government affiliation was transferred to the new National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and JPL's current mission of unmanned planetary exploration began. JPL retained its original name after the transition, even though most research into jet propulsion ceased after 1958. In 1995 JPL once again got involved in propulsion design, issuing a contract to Wickman Spacecraft and Propulsion Company to develop a rocket engine and jet engine that could directly burn the Martian atmosphere of carbon dioxide.

Location of JPL.

Almost all of the 177 acres (72 hectares) of the U.S. Government/NASA owned property that makes up the JPL campus is actually located in the city of La Caņada Flintridge, California, but the JPL main gate and several buildings are in Pasadena, so it maintains a Pasadena address (4800 Oak Grove Drive, Pasadena, CA 91109).

Employees of JPL.

There are approximately 5,000 full-time Caltech employees, and typically a few thousand additional contractors working on any given day. 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.

Open days at JPL.

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. The 2007 Open House will take place on May 19 & 20, 2007. 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.

Other works by JPL.

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.

The Space Flight Operations Facility and Twenty-five-foot Space Simulator are designated National Historic Landmarks.

Funding for JPL.

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 Jupiter mission and the Mars rovers, including the 1997 Mars Observer 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 world-wide Deep Space Network, with facilities in California's Mojave Desert, in Spain near Madrid and in Australia near Canberra.

Missions by JPL.

Listed chronologically, the following significant missions were partially sponsored by JPL. See this page for a complete list of missions.

  • Explorer program.
  • Mariner program.
  • Pioneer 3 + 4.
  • Viking program.
  • Voyager program.
  • Magellan Probe.
  • Galileo probe.
  • Deep Space 1 + 2.
  • Mars Global Surveyor.
  • Mars Climate Orbiter.
  • Cassini-Huygens.
  • Stardust.
  • Mars Odyssey.
  • Mars Observer.
  • Mars Exploration Rover Mission.
  • Spitzer space telescope.
  • Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

List of Directors at JPL.

  • Dr. Theodore von Karman, 1938 - 1944.
  • Dr. Frank Malina, 1944 - 1946.
  • Dr. Louis Dunn, 1946 - October 1, 1954.
  • Dr. William H. 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.

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