JPL Director Charles Elachi
"Do not go where the path may lead," wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. "Go instead where there is no path, and leave a trail." That could be the motto of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Trailblazing has been the business of JPL since it was established by the California Institute of Technology in the 1930s. America's first satellite, Explorer 1 which launched in 1958, was created at JPL. In the decades that followed, we sent the first robotic craft to the moon and out across the solar system, reconnoitering all of the planets. Pushing the outer edge of exploration, in fact, is the reason JPL exists as a NASA laboratory.
In that spirit, this is an exceptionally busy period for JPL in laying new paths. Last August, the Mars Science Laboratory's Curiosity rover made a heart-pounding and technically pitch-perfect landing on Mars, setting the stage for a two-year mission to determine if the planet could have ever hosted life. In June 2012 we launched the X-ray telescope NuSTAR. In September, the Dawn spacecraft, which spent more than a year orbiting the asteroid belt's second largest object, the protoplanet Vesta, used ion propulsion to embark on a flight to orbit the dwarf planet Ceres in 2015. In December 2012, the twin GRAIL spacecraft marked an exciting end to their mission gravity-mapping Earth's moon as they intentionally crash-landed into the lunar surface.
They are among many other missions currently operating across the solar system. At the Red Planet, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is returning exceptionally detailed photos of the surface, while the Mars Exploration Rover mission keeps going far beyond original plans. The flagship explorer Cassini continues its orbits of Saturn, scrutinizing the ringed planet and its moons, including the haze-shrouded Titan in an extended mission. The Voyagers are exploring the edge of our solar system. A cadre of spaceborne telescopes look out beyond the planets to stars and galaxies beyond - among them the Spitzer Space Telescope, Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, and the European-teamed Planck mission. Closer to home, a contingent of Earth-orbiting satellites monitors the lands, oceans and atmosphere of our own planet, returning important information on topics ranging from atmospheric ozone to El Nino events.
In total, JPL has 19 spacecraft and 9 instruments conducting active missions. All of these are important parts of NASA's program of exploration of Earth, the solar system and the universe beyond. These ventures would not be possible without NASA's Deep Space Network managed by JPL. This international network of antenna complexes on several continents serves as the communication gateway between distant spacecraft and the Earth-based teams that guide them. While carrying out these exploration missions, JPL also conducts a number of space technology demonstrations in support of national security and develops technologies for uses on Earth in fields from public safety to medicine, capitalizing on NASA's investment in space technology.
The stories of these mighty things we dare are told in the pages that begin here.
Dr. Charles Elachi
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
4800 Oak Grove Drive
Pasadena, California 91109