Visiting JPL for the First Time
Zoe Bentley at JPL's Mars YardZoe stands in JPL's Mars Yard.

Zoe Bentley with geologist and Mars scientist Joy CrispZoe interviewed NASA/JPL Mars scientist and geologist Joy Crisp.

Zoe Bentley with astrobiologist Pan ConradDuring her JPL visit, Zoe interviewed NASA astrobiologist Pan Conrad.

by Zoë Bentley

I'm Zoë Bentley, a 13-year-old homeschooler from Arizona. I recently won second place in the NASA/USA Today "No Boundaries" contest for my "Exogeology ROCKS!" project. Because of this, I was invited to go on a VIP tour of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. I plan to become an exogeologist and work for NASA.

Wow, what an experience! Visiting JPL in Pasadena, CA, for the first time was everything I'd hoped it would be, and much more!

We started our day trying to find the entrance. JPL is nestled between cities and mountains, all on a hill. With thousands of employees, and many parking areas, it was fun just seeing how an employee would get to his or her job! There were even shuttle buses from the employee parking areas to the buildings.

JPL is spread out like a college campus. I've only been to a few of those but it felt just like the ones I've visited. Unlike most companies' grounds, there was an amazing amount of vegetation and wildlife. While I didn't get to see a deer, I heard they frequent the area, and I did see geckos and horses. (The horses are at a private stable right before we arrived.)

Every single person I met was amazingly nice. They all loved their jobs and they were clearly passionate about their work. It was so fun meeting people who loved their lives! It made me even more excited to be pursuing my dreams through Exogeology ROCKS!

I had the opportunity to interview two incredibly interesting scientists, Joy Crisp and Pan Conrad. I also had a lot of casual conversations with several other scientists. Each one was able to help me see what working for NASA would be like. I loved it! My only wish is that I would have been able to stay even longer!

During my visit I went to the Mars Yard, which is where rover drivers have set up rocks to simulate Martian terrain. They use replicas of rovers to try and navigate the area. It really did look like Mars! Near the Mars Yard was the Extraterrestrial Materials Simulation Laboratory. That's where scientists at JPL can get materials similar to what might be found in other places in the solar system, like comet ice, moon dust and lots more! That ROCKS!

I also got to see Mars Science Laboratory (aka Curiosity) being built. It was still in pieces when I saw it, but you could see that it will be huge. Seeing the clean room where the rover was being built was really cool. It was really awesome getting to see the real rover! Speaking of Mars rovers, I saw a replica of Spirit that rover drivers used to test out ways to free the rover. (One of Spirit's wheels is stuck in sand.) I don't think I could pick my favorite part since the entire visit was so awesome!

Thanks, NASA, for inviting me to present my Exogeology ROCKS! project at JPL in June 2010. I look forward to visiting every NASA facility across our wonderful nation.

Check out Zoe's earlier NASA/JPL story: How I Became Interested in Exogeology .

To find out how to plan your own visit to JPL, go to .