May 9, 2006

My name is Raina Wessen and I'm a 12-year-old who has been to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Open House at least six times so I'm an expert on all the cool stuff that happens at the lab on those two days. My mom and dad both work at JPL so it's really fun to see them at work. This year's Open House will be on May 20 and 21, that's Saturday and Sunday, right before Memorial Day weekend.

There's lots of fun stuff for kids to do at JPL and your parents can talk to engineers and scientists about all the latest missions to outer space.

There is a station where you can pick a temporary tattoo of different planets. You can put it on your hand or your face, but don't worry it washes off easily. I really like the tattoos because they're fun and you get to meet lots of people. I think I get that from my dad's side of the family. My dad is Randii Wessen; he is a program systems engineer at JPL. He is very funny and tells jokes. He is a tour guide on some of the buses that can take you around JPL. If it's hot outside, the tour buses are a great place to be, because the seats are so comfy…I love them! I normally ride on the bus at least three times. It's fun because you can get off at different spots and you learn different facts about the lab.

My mom, Alice Wessen, also works at JPL. She manages Cassini stuff. Cassini is a spacecraft studying Saturn. It's orbiting around the planet to learn more about its many moons and the planet itself. Cassini also carried a probe, called Huygens, that sent back information about Saturn’s moon Titan. My mom makes sure all the coolest images of Saturn and its moons are on display. This year she will help people in the information booth in case they get lost.

My mom says this year kids can see some really cool new robots. This gigantic robot, also called a rover, is named Athlete. It will be out in this really big sand box along with its little robot brother Rocky. You can learn from people who work with the robots and find out how they will operate during future missions to space.

There are other places at JPL where you can see amazing exhibits to explore and learn. You can look at the stars with these really big solar telescopes, and visit the places where they build spacecraft and test the rovers that are rolling around on Mars.

You can see movies about space, and you can get rolled over with a 5-pound mechanical prototype rover. The wheels tickle your belly. It’s a blast especially the first time you do it. You can do a lot of times but you may have to wait in line a long time.

In another exhibit, you can pretend to be an astronaut or at least take a picture and look like one. Or you can take some green paper and put it over your head or part of your body and it looks like you disappear. The background is green so that's how it works. And the people who work in JPL's television studio play this video and it looks like you're flying in space.

I really love the cafeteria at JPL too. It has great pizza and great fries! It's so much better than our school cafeteria. One year I bought astronaut ice cream so that was cool.

The shopping is also fun. You can buy lots of cool toys. I have this little mini robot with little wiggly things and long spindly legs. You twist up part of its body and it shakes and vibrates all over the place, it's funny when it falls off the table. The most important part is that it entertains you. My brother, Ian, bought this glider with propellers. It's this stick with a single propeller that's kind of like wings on the top and you rub it in your hands and it flies away. That's a fun toy too.

I'll be at Open House again this year with my friends whose parents also work at JPL. I hope to see you there. Raina Wessen is in the 6th grade and goes to school in Pasadena.

JPL employee Alice Wessen and daughter Raina
Twelve-year-old Raina Wessen (left), daughter of JPL employees Alice Wessen (right) and Randii Wessen (not pictured), invites kids of all ages to JPL's annual Open House on May 20-21. The JPL Museum in the background is a popular stop for Open House visitors.
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