My first article for Krypton Radio, eight months ago, was about my disappointment over not getting into the NASA JPL Open House event in Pasadena. So I thought it was only fitting that I report on the event now that I’ve been on the other side of those gates.
Despite temperatures in the 90s, everyone was in good spirits yesterday. Some of the exhibit lines were long, but they moved quickly. Big crowds at an event like this are heartening. It’s good to see so many people still interested in the work that NASA and JPL are doing. I spoke to several people in line who had also tried to get in during the October open house. Like me, they were much happier with the new ticketed system that gave them guaranteed access to the campus.
The event in October had over 36,000 people in the gates by noon on the first day. This time a certain number of tickets, just 13,000 per day, were made available to the public. The tickets were released online back in April, and it was a bit like trying to get a badge for San Diego Comic Con by feverishly pressing refresh and hoping your luck would hold out for a spot. Some tickets did become available in the past few weeks as people gave up their spots due to other commitments. The ticketed system may not be everyone’s favorite way to do things, but it really seems like the most organized approach to an event like this. Plus, who doesn’t love the thrill of being able to see cool geek stuff to make their friends jealous?
And cool geek stuff was definitely on display in Pasadena. There were robotics demonstrations, fun photo booths, and plenty of indoor exhibits for everyone to cool off for a bit with some air conditioning and a dose of scientific learning. JPL also opened the doors to their Spacecraft Assembly Facility, giving guests in a closed gallery a look at their largest clean room on campus. A mock-up of the solar panels from the new Juno spacecraft, set to reach Jupiter next month, were on display. Guests were also allowed access inside Mission Control – complete with Lucky Peanuts for the Juno mission – and given a sticker proudly proclaiming their visit to the “Center of the Universe”.
I can’t compare this event to past visits, since this was my first time at JPL, but I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed myself and would go back again. This event was very well organized, and lots of planning went into making it a great day for all the attendees. Part of this is due to JPL trying to repair the bad publicity from back in October, and I would say they’re on the right track. Response on social media has been largely positive this time. The JPL staff were very friendly, and kept thanking us for coming. Though, as we told them, they deserve our gratitude for opening their doors to the public. After the outcry from the last open house it might have been easier to close down the event for the foreseeable future. Instead, the staff learned from their mistakes and fixed the problem. Those engineering minds at NASA really can’t say no to a little problem-solving. They wanted to prove they could still put on a good open house event, and they succeeded.
If you didn’t get to attend the event, but still would like to see what was on display, use the hashtag #ExploreJPL on social media. Or contact JPL to setup your own facility tour.