National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Glenn Research Center

Jet Propulsion Laboratory

JPL Flight Projects Center

We were welcomed to JPL along with the Ames and Marshall Academies in the brand new JPL Flight Projects Center. We watched a video entitled 6 minutes which described the EDL (entry, descent and landing) of an entry vehicle onto mars. A stunning animation displayed the entire process in which the capsule decelerated from 12,000mph (mach 25) eventually reaching zero mph. The outside skin of the vehicle reaches 1600 degrees Celsius. The director of education Bill Whitney, who had greeted us, joked that ‘JPL’ stands for “Just Plain Lucky.”

Following this we watched a video entitled “Journey to Planets and Beyond” narrated by Harrison Ford. This video described the exploration of the planets of our solar system


We then took a tour of the ISU lab where rover components are tested in simulated environments. We saw the rover test bed that had been used during the efforts to free the Mars rover Spirit when it got stuck in the sand.


We then headed back to the flight project center for a technical talk on Autonomous Spacecraft by Steve Chien. This talk focused on the importance of utilizing autonomous systems to aid us in observing and filtering through the data. It also discussed how the AI could aid by allowing autonomous systems to only return important information and allow more efficient use of human time and data usage. It would also enable, rapid response to short lived events and can apply to a wide range of sensors and event types.

ATHLETE (All-Terrain Hex-Legged Extra-Terrestrial Explorer)

We had an opportunity to view the facility where ATHLETE was constructed. Brian Wilcox gave us an overview of the system. This was a six legged robotic vehicle that can be used on lunar and other planetary missions. It had multi-degree of freedom legs with wheels attached to the ends that enables the vehicle to drive in any direction and even “walk” by actuating the legs. This was a remarkable vehicle and could even split in half with three legs supporting each half.

NASA Visualization Team

Jason Craig who is one of the members of NASA’s visualization team showed us some of their work and tasks. They try to effectively convey (as accurately as possible) visualization of various NASA missions, data, and hardware. They can get terrain textures as accurate as one pixel per foot. Even the stars are accurate.

Mars Science Lab

Inside this building we were able to view the clean rooms in which the Mars Science Laboratory was be assembled. Various components including the heat shield, the descent module, the capsule, and the actual rover itself were clearly visible as workers in white clean suits walked around performing different tasks. Curiosity had actually just been assembled a week prior and we were told we were lucky to see the rover looking like a rover.

Space Flight Operation Control

Here we were able to actually sit in the chairs of the individuals who conducting missions to mars and various other parts of space. We could see the data streams coming in from all the active NASA missions. We were told how one of the side rooms can be outfitted to support current projects when needed. Such as the landing of a rover on Mars.