"Making Tracks: Stories From Mars"

"Gravity Probe B Takes Flight"

"Opportunity's Hole-In-One"

"A Spirit of Opportunity"

"Jason 1: A Well TIMED Launch"

"Mars Exploration: Where Do We Stand"

"Two for the Mars Road"

"Listening to Whispers From Space"

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory is located in the foothills of Pasadena, California. Those who work there have no choice but to stay in shape because of all the up and down terrain, getting from one building to the next.

It is not uncommon to see deer strolling through the facility, completely unfazed by their proximity to humans.

In some ways this NASA Center is more laid back than other facilities because there are no noisy launches, rumbling rocket tests, or other high octane activity taking place here. On the other hand, they do what no other center does, they are responsible for the planning, construction, and operation of vehicles flung throughout the far corners of our solar system.

The most recent successes of JPL include the twin Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, on the dusty red surface of the Red Planet. Both have far outlived their planned lifetimes. Also ongoing is the Cassini mission that is in orbit around the ringed-world of Saturn. Cassini arrived in June 2004 and has worked perfectly ever since, sending back streams of data, photos, and even sound from nearly 800 million miles in space (at closest approach to Earth).

The photos in this section of the Mach 25 Media web site have been taken as we cover events that transpire at JPL and at associated events such as the Planetfest celebrations organized by The Planetary Society.

The entrance to JPL is very unassuming. Looking more like a college campus than a research facility and spaceflight operations center, this is the first sign greeting visitors after they pass the guard structure on Oak Grove Boulevard.

Once on the grounds, the most prominent building is the main headquarters which also is home to the Spaceflight Operations Center, where all planetary missions are controlled.

Media representatives await word on the fate of the first Mars Exploration Rover (MER-A) Spirit, on January 3, 2004. Compare this shot of the interior of the Von Karman Auditorium with the shot on the Voyager page of this web site. Looks like hardly anything has changed except the faces, and even many of those are the same after over 22 years have passed.

Bill Nye, The Science Guy, explains to the crowd what a landing on Mars would be like with a parachute and airbags. To demonstrate, Bill uses balloons and a table top from which to jump.

At the same time, elsewhere in Pasadena, the Planetary Society hosted Planetfest. The photo below shows just a portion of the huge crowd waiting for word of a successful landing on Mars. Anytime a politician says there is no support for space exploration, they should attend an event such as this.

Several hours prior to the landing of MER-B, Opportunity, on Mars on January 24, 2004, a Q&A session was held for the press with NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe, JPL Director, Dr. Charles Elachi, and NASA Scientist Dr. Ed Weiler. Dr. Weiller tried to always be a pessimist so that no one would get their hopes up too high for the success of a mission that depended on so many things happening in perfect order and timing. Luckily, everything did go absolutely perfectly for Opportunity and for the first time since twin Vikings landed on Mars in 1976, NASA had two operational spacecraft on the surface of Mars.

About an hour after the successful landing of Opportunity, the JPL people gathered at the Von Karman Auditorium to meet the press. The jubilation of everyone is clearly evident in the series of photos below.

Many of the images being returned from Mars by the MERs are taken by a stereo camera system high atop a mast on the rovers, which is situated at approximately human eye level above the surface. When combined, these images can be viewed in stereo using red/blue 3-D glasses, just like in a cheap 1950s science fiction film.

Dr. Elachi (left) and Dr. Ed Weiller (right) are shown here donning the 3-D glasses to get a look at the latest from Mars.

Cassini at Saturn

The Cassini mission to Saturn has not garnered the same media attention as the Mars rovers. Some of that may be explained by the distance involved which makes what is happening so far away a remote thing for us to ponder. However, the achievements of Cassini, and the hitchhiker probe Huygens to Titan, have proven to be powerful tools to open up new streams of data about these distant worlds.

The press room on the evening of Cassini's arrival in Saturn orbit was nearly as crowded as it had been for Spirit and Opportunity. The media trucks to broadcast events to the outside world were clearly in evidence in the JPL parking area.

When the 97 minute engine burn was successfully completed on June 30, 2004, the scientists and engineers were no less happy than those who were working on Mars, so much closer to home.

One Year on Mars


No one would have believed in January 2004 that there would be a gathering at JPL one year later to honor Spirit and Opportunity, and that at that time, both rovers would still be going strong. Made to last just 90 days, as Dr. Elachi pointed out, this was not their first anniversary, but their fourth!


At left, Sean O'Keefe is presented with an anniversary cake by Dr. Elachi, with Dr. Firouz Naderi and Dr. Steve Squyres looking on. The candle was the type that it was impossible to blow out to signify the ever-ready nature of the twin Martian rovers.


The photos below show some of the project scientists and engineers discussing the findings of MER-A and MER-B, along with personal stories about their experiences during the flight from Earth, landing on Mars, and spending a year exploring on another world.

The Mars Exploration Rover team on the first anniversary of Spirit's landing, January 3, 2005. The team is gathered around a full-scale mockup of MER. The white camera mast can be seen almost directly in the middle of the photo, giving a scale to the size of the rover. JPL Director Dr. Charles Elachi is sitting at the base of the mast, right in front of the rover. Sean O'Keefe, the then current NASA Administrator is just to the left of Dr. Elachi.