There's never a dull day at JPL, but recent ones have been especially exciting and rewarding.
Years of hard work are paying off as a series of flight projects are being sent aloft. The most recent set began this spring, with an experiment called OPALS that was sent to the International Space Station. The package was designed to show how lasers can be used to beam vastly larger quantities of data to Earth from spacecraft and satellites. More importantly, it is a special project designed to make use of the talents of new JPL staff and introduce them to everything involved in creating a flight project. Both technically and in these human terms, it's been a terrific success.
Then, as June turned into July, we had two highly exciting, back-to-back events. A test vehicle shaped like a flying saucer called the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator had a very productive flight test in the skies near Kauai, Hawaii. The test went well in that it didn't work entirely. Does that sound strange? Not really, because the purpose of a test is to shake out bugs and problems. Everything worked epically with the exception of the vehicle's parachute, which shredded. It just goes to show, even with high-tech machinery, we can still be challenged by something as old-fashioned as a parachute. The project eventually will enable new ways of landing large payloads at Mars.
Even before we caught our breaths from that event, attention turned to the skies over central California, where the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 satellite took to space. Thick fog at 3 a.m. didn't keep hundreds of enthusiastic guests from turning out for the launch, which went off without a hitch. The satellite will give us crucial data on carbon and its role in climate change.
With that launch, JPL has 20 spacecraft and nine major instruments conducting active missions - ranging from the Curiosity rover on Mars and Cassini orbiting Saturn, to the Dawn spacecraft heading to the dwarf planet Ceres and the Spitzer Space Telescope viewing distant galaxies.
And while summer usually means vacations, at JPL it means summer students - many hundreds of them. This year we are setting a record with some 700 college and high school students from all over the country who are getting a taste of working in a wide variety of disciplines. They will be the next generation of explorers who help shape JPL and NASA across the 21st century.
If that isn't enough, there are more launches coming this summer and fall. Stay tuned to this website to keep on top of all of these exciting developments.
Dr. Charles Elachi
Director, Jet Propulsion Laboratory