Slice of History Blogs

Slice of History Blogs

Archivist Julie Cooper shares historical photos from the JPL Archives. Learn more about JPL history and explore the archives at https://beacon.jpl.nasa.gov/.


Dr. Henry Richter

In 2018 JPL celebrates the 60th anniversary of America’s first satellite, Explorer 1.

Henry Richter started working at JPL in 1955 as an engineer and Supervisor for the New Circuit Elements Group. Later he was a Staff Engineer for the Deep Space Network and then Chief of the Space Instruments Section (322). During the Explorer Project Dr. Richter was project manager for the satellite design, in charge of JPL experiments for the International Geophysical Year, and was liaison between the Satellite Instrumentation Group and the Operations and Data Groups. He published a book in 2015 –America’s Leap into Space: My Time at JPL and the First Explorer Satellites.

On Wednesday, January 31 at 3:30, Dr. Richter will present his JPL Story in the Hub (111-104), followed at 4:30 by a book signing. He’ll share the story of JPL’s role working for the Army/Caltech and of the remarkable people who were part of the Explorer team. During the late 1950s, JPL extended rocket engineering to spacecraft design, using components that were on the cutting edge of technology. When they were finally given the chance to combine the instruments, upper stages, and launch vehicle, they accomplished the task in just a few months.

The JPL documentary Explorer 1 and the 1958 film X Minus 80 Days will be shown in the 111 Hub on Tuesday, January 30 from 12:00-1:15.

For more information about the history of JPL, contact the JPL Archives for assistance.

TAGS: HENRY RICHTER, DEEP SPACE NETWORK, JPL

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Orrery

An orrery was built for NASA/JPL by Pre-Mec Engineering, Inc. and was designed by JPL engineer Raymond A. McCreary (Design Section, 356 – part of the Engineering Mechanics Division).

The scale of Earth and its moon was approximately 1 cm = 6000 km, but the scale of orbits, the Sun, and other moons varied.

Computer animations did not exist in the early 1960s, and like a trajectory model, this orrery helped engineers plan, visualize, and demonstrate the expected flight path, flyby, or landing to be made by a spacecraft. Missions in development at this time were Ranger and Surveyor (lunar missions), Mariner 2 to Venus, and Mariner 4 to Mars.

For more information about the history of JPL, contact the JPL Archives for assistance. [Archival and other sources: Section 321 photo album and index, and JPL/Caltech phone directories

TAGS: ORRERY, TRAJECTORY MODEL, SOLAR SYSTEM

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Mariner Jupiter Saturn 1977 (Voyager) Logo

In August and September 1977, two Voyager spacecraft were launched on a Grand Tour of the solar system. In 1973, the mission had been named Mariner Jupiter-Saturn 1977 (MJS ‘77) and was intended to go only as far as Jupiter and Saturn.

In March 1977 the mission name was changed to Voyager. In October 1978, a Voyager Fact Sheet mentioned the possibility of sending Voyager 2 to Uranus and Neptune. It would happen only if the primary science objectives were met at Saturn first. Even though the extended mission was not certain before launch, Voyager engineers (unofficially) designed and built the spacecraft to be capable of navigating to Uranus and Neptune, and surviving the longer trip. On-board computers were reprogrammed during the voyage, giving the spacecraft the ability to successfully return many more images and much more information than were expected. It’s unlikely the Voyager team imagined that both spacecraft would still be operating 40 years after launch.

For more information about the history of JPL, contact the JPL Archives for assistance. [Archival and other sources: Various Voyager and JPL History web pages; Voyager Fact Sheet, 10/6/1978; Section 260 photo album and index.

TAGS: VOYAGER, MARINER, URANUS, NEPTUNE, GRAND TOUR, JUPITER

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Mars Pathfinder Rover Team, 1994

In December 1994, a group of Mars Pathfinder team members gathered for a photo with the Sojourner Rover model.

In December 1994, a group of Mars Pathfinder team members gathered for a photo with the Sojourner Rover model.  They were working on rover technology development efforts about two years before the anticipated launch date.

On February 1, 1995, Mars Day was held on the JPL mall – an event for JPLers, schoolchildren, and visitors.  The Office of Mars Exploration sponsored presentations, booths, and demonstrations of technology from Mars Pathfinder and Mars Global Surveyor.  Mars Exploration Program Manager Donna Shirley said, “We wanted people from other projects and those who aren’t involved in our office to see what we’re up to, what kind of technologies we’ve developed.  We’re excited about what we’re doing and we wanted to share that excitement.”

If you would like to help the Archives staff identify people in this photo, please see the partial list at https://pub-lib.jpl.nasa.gov/docushare/dsweb/Services/Document-2749 (click on title to open PDF document).

For more information about the history of JPL, contact the JPL Archives for assistance. [Archival and other sources: Collection JPL508, various issues of Universe, photo index, Allen Sirotta, Brian Wilcox, and David Braun.]

TAGS: MARS, PATHFINDER, ROVER, TEAM, 1994

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Exhibit  explained the flow of data from a spacecraft to the Deep Space Network stations

In October 1967 Mariner 5 had just reached Venus, JPL was looking forward to the 10th anniversary of Explorer 1 and the launches of Surveyor 6 and 7 to the Moon, and Mariner 6 and 7 were in development.

When visitors were escorted into the lobby of the Space Flight Operations Facility (SFOF), they saw the reception/security desk, a waiting area, and this new exhibit. It explained the flow of data from a spacecraft to the Deep Space Network stations (or Deep Space Instrumentation Facilities) to the SFOF. A series of photos showed various work stations in the SFOF, as well as the technology being used in the facility (in the main operations area and behind the scenes). During 1967 and 1968, JPL hosted visits by NASA staff, members of Congress, foreign dignitaries, JPL contractors/partners, former employees, student groups, professional groups, celebrities, and the press.

For more information about the history of JPL, contact the JPL Archives for assistance. [Archival sources: 318 and P photo albums and index.]

TAGS: DEEP SPACE NETWORK, SPACE FLIGHT OPERATIONS EXHIBIT, MARINER, EXPLORER 1, SURVEYOR

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Titan Saturn mission artwork, 1976

In the 1970s and 80s, before advanced computer graphics, artist Ken Hodges was hired by JPL to create paintings that depicted many different missions – some in the planning stages and some only imagined.

Bruce Murray became JPL's Director in 1976, and he advocated new missions (Purple Pigeons) that would have enough pizzazz to attract public and scientific support.  Hodges painted many of the Purple Pigeon images, including this scene of a Saturn orbiter with a lander going to the surface of Saturn's largest moon Titan.  This artwork was done almost 30 years before Cassini's Huygens Probe reached the surface of Titan.  Cassini was launched in 1997 and spent seven years traveling to Saturn. The probe was released in December 2004, and landed on Titan on January 14, 2005.

For more information about the history of JPL, contact the JPL Archives for assistance. [Archival and other sources: P-numbered photo albums and indexes, Cassini and Huygens web pages.]

TAGS: SATURN, COMPUTER GRAPHICS, KEN HODGES, CASSINI, TITAN

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Ten-Foot Space Simulator Thermal Testing

In early 1989, a series of thermal tests were conducted on the Microwave Limb Sounder (MLS) Instrument, which was part of the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS).

The MLS System Thermal Vacuum (STV) test program was designed to evaluate its thermal integrity and functions in a simulated space environment.  It included a 24-hour bakeout, six phases of thermal balance tests, and a thermal cycling test of the instrument in flight configuration, using a variety of heaters and lamps.

This photo shows the Ten-Foot Space Simulator located in Building 248, with a quartz lamp array approximately seven feet tall.  This array faced the primary reflector during testing and helped to heat the chamber to 80°C (176°F).  The vacuum chamber shroud was lowered over the test fixture, and the chamber walls and floor were maintained at -100°C to -179°C during testing.

For more information about the history of JPL, contact the JPL Archives for assistance.

TAGS: MICROWAVE LIMB SOUNDER (MLS) INSTRUMENT, THERMAL TESTS, SPACE SIMULATOR

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JPL’s First Digital Computer

In January 1953, JPL was in the market for its first digital computer.

After investigating the possibilities, a site visit was made to Consolidated Engineering Corporation (CEC) in Pasadena and the CEC Model 30-203 digital computer, shown in this photo, was eventually selected. The prototype at CEC was given the project number 36-101. JPL and the National Bureau of Standards were the first two customers to order the computer – the one ordered by JPL was 36-102, and the one for NBS was 36-103.

JPL's computer was finally delivered and operational in July 1954. It cost approximately $135,000 (more than $1 million in 2016 dollars). That did not include the operator's console, paper tape input and output, punch card unit, or other related equipment. It featured magnetic drum storage of about 4000 words (a "word" being a number or command) and a word length of 10 decimal digits. It contained more than 1,500 vacuum tubes.

For more information about the history of JPL, contact the JPL Archives for assistance. [Archival and other sources: Section 371 photo albums, Combined Bimonthly Summary No. 33, Datatron Chronology.)

TAGS: JPL'S FIRST DIGITAL COMPUTER, MODEL 30-203, PASADENA, CONSOLIDATED ENGINEERING CORPORTATION (CEC), MAGNETIC DRUM STORAGE

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32nd anniversary of the first rocket motor test

On October 31, 1968 JPL celebrated the 32nd anniversary of the first rocket motor tests in the Arroyo Seco.

The five men in this photo were present at the series of tests that happened in 1936 and 1937, and they came back to JPL for the celebration. From left to right are: William C. Rockefeller, William A. Bollay, Edward S. Forman, Frank J. Malina, and Apollo M.O. Smith. The historical marker found in the JPL Mall was commemorated at this event, and they posed next to a replica of the rocket motor test stand. The photo below shows a print of a 1936 test stand drawing by Frank Malina. He was the Chief Engineer of what would later become JPL, and was Acting Director from 1944 to 1946.

The Bering Strait
A print of a 1936 test stand drawing by Frank Malina.

For more information about the history of JPL, contact the JPL Archives for assistance. [Archival and other sources: various History Collection documents, photo albums, Lab-Oratory.)

TAGS: ROCKET MOTOR TEST, 32ND ANNIVERSARY, ARROYO SECO

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Goldstone Deep Space Instrumentation Facility, Transmitting Station, 1960

JPL photographers don’t take only technical photos, although you’ll find plenty of images of parts, testing, construction, and spacecraft assembly in the JPL Archives photo collection.

On occasion, photographers explore the surrounding area, and take more artistic photos suitable for publicity, brochures, or for display in a JPL building. The newest Historical Photo of the Month shows one example – an early deep space communications antenna in California’s Mojave Desert.

This photo shows the “Transmitting Station” at what was then called the Goldstone Deep Space Instrumentation Facility (also known as the Goldstone Tracking Station or GTS). The 10-kw radio transmitter and 85-foot antenna were installed about two years after the first station ( the “Receiving Station”) became operational in December 1958. It added voice communication and radio command capabilities to the expanding Goldstone operation.

TAGS: GOLDSTONE, DEEP SPACE INSTRUMENT FACILITY, ANTENNA, MOJAVE DESERT, TRANSMITTING STATION, GTS

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