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NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Adds New Stops to Its Virtual Tour

While NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover makes groundbreaking achievements on the Red Planet, its twin is hard at work in JPL’s Mars Yard.
While NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover makes groundbreaking achievements on the Red Planet, its twin is hard at work in JPL’s Mars Yard. The Operational Perseverance Twin for the Integration of Mechanisms and Instruments Sent to Mars, or OPTIMISM, is the Mars 2020 Vehicle System Testbed (VSTB) rover. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Now you can see the Mars Yard up close, roam the world-class Microdevices Lab, visit the shop where spacecraft parts are made, and stop into a clean room where spacecraft take shape.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has just added several new stops to the immersive virtual tour that takes you through the leading center for the robotic exploration of the universe.

Stop by the Lab’s Mars Yard, an outdoor field with red soil that simulates the Martian terrain encountered by Perseverance, Curiosity, and other Mars explorers. This is where missions test full-scale rover models, and you’ll find in-depth details on everything from instruments on the Earthly twin of NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover to the garage that houses it.

Also new to the virtual tour is the Microdevices Lab. Daring, cutting-edge projects developed in this world-class laboratory have played key roles since 1990 in transforming ideas that seemed like science fiction into powerful technologies for use in space and on Earth. In fact, work here has enabled Perseverance to hunt for organics and minerals on Mars.

While you’re at it, visit the fabrication shop, where flight and ground support equipment hardware is crafted with extreme precision. There is no mass production here – everything is “one off.”

With the latest additions, you can now visit the Earth Orbiting Mission Operations Center, too. This facility was developed to provide a work area for JPL engineers and data analysts to monitor and operate Earth-orbiting satellites built and managed by JPL.

Also added is a view of High Bay 2 of JPL’s spacecraft assembly facility. Completed in 1976 to help with the Voyager project, this is JPL’s tallest clean room. It’s located beside High Bay 1, which has seen spacecraft taking shape since 1962.

Each location is embedded with dozens of points of interest – including videos, fun facts, and images – and they only add to an already fascinating journey into the rich history of the 177-acre facility.

For example, you can drop by the control room for the Deep Space Network, where JPL staff communicate with every NASA spacecraft flying beyond the orbit of the Moon. Click on one of the embedded links to see in real-time which spacecraft are returning data to each of the three Deep Space Network facilities based around the world.

In the von Kármán Auditorium and the Lab’s Visitor Center Museum, you can learn about JPL’s early years, including its involvement in launching America’s first satellite, Explorer 1, which led to the formation of NASA. You’ll also find full-scale models of some of our most beloved spacecraft, including Voyager, Galileo, and the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity in these rooms.

“There’s just so much to explore at JPL. With the expansion of the tour, we’re hoping to see people return over and over,” said Veronica McGregor, manager of JPL’s Digital News and Media Office.

The virtual lab tour is a collaboration of the JPL Digital News and Media Office and the Public Services Office, which handles in-person tours and other visitor activities. The tour staff’s expertise, honed from ushering thousands of visitors through the lab each year, was invaluable in creating the dozens of points of interest included in each virtual tour stop. In-person tours at JPL have been suspended since March 2020 due to the pandemic.

“Our staff has been providing virtual tours for schools and the general public over the past year,” said Kim Lievense, manager of the Public Services Office at JPL.  “With these new tour locations, we can expand the experience for our school groups and the general public.” 

JPL is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California.

Matthew Segal
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.