JPL Open House (16)

I admit it, I’m a geek.  I spent last night cheering “Thor” and last weekend enjoying An Evening with Leonard Nimoy.  At present my geek timeclock is counting down to my favorite event of the year, the JPL (Jet Propulsion Lab) Open House.

When: Saturday May 14th & Sunday May 15th, 9am – 5pm.

Where: 4800 Oak Grove Drive, Pasadena CA  91109

Free admission, free parking.

Having attended several years in a row, my bud and I have the day down to an art.  If you’re in the area and wish to partake, here are my recommendations to get the most out of your visit:

Arrive early, before the gates open.  There are several entry points, and signs and staff will direct you from your parking spot.  The line may look long, but once the doors open the process moves quickly and smoothly.  You will go through a basic bag search and metal detector, and be given a map that will become the guidebook to your day.

At this point, I advise the majority of your party get in line for either the Mission Control Room tour or the Robo Dome demonstration, with one designated “runner” heading to the Information Booth in the main plaza.  There are always a couple of movies or special events that require an admission ticket, and they’re usually handed out in this area.  The tickets are free, but do run out.  Try to get tickets that have an entry time a couple of hours later to give you time to go through your first “attraction”.

The Mission Control Room is where the current space missions are being monitored in real time.  The Robo Dome features two 700 pound robots gliding in an arena under artificial stars.  In all exhibits questions are welcomed, especially at the “Ask A Scientist” booth where you’re free to come up with the most challenging question you can, or simply ask the scientist’s area of expertise and sit back and let ’em fly.

In a time when members of our government use the word “science” as an almost epithet, the Open House is a time to celebrate and honor our best and brightest, whose brainpower is opening new windows to our world above and here on Earth.

While the space missions get the press and the glory, JPL’s missions on earth are as critical to our future if not more so.  This year’s Open House features JPL’s brand new Earth Science Center, open to the public for the first time.

A visit to the Space Fabrication building is a must to see the new Mars Rover, Curiosity, being built before your eyes, on its way to a November 2011 launch.

The Open House is particularly great for kids. From having a Mars rover climb over them, to computer stations, to 3-D pictures, there are lots of fun stuff for them to do.

Relax into your day knowing you will not be able to see everything.  See what you can, and make sure to swing by the Gift Shop, the one tent that is always gridlocked chaos but chock full of cool Space Chotchkies.

Bring: sunscreen, hat, comfortable shoes, small bag or backpack (link at top will tell you items allowed in). Food is basic burgers and hot dogs, ice cream, bottled water.  If the day shines bright, the heat standing in line can get intense.  Stay hydrated.

(photo credit 1: BK LVI56,

(photo credit 2: Victoria Bernal,