The JPL Archivists share historical photos from the JPL Archives. Learn more about JPL history and explore the archives at https://jpl-nasa.libguides.com/archives.
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.]
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.]
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.
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.)
On October 31, 1968 JPL celebrated the 32nd anniversary of the first rocket motor tests in the Arroyo Seco.
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.
Reports and brochures about the history of aerodynamic facilities at JPL usually identify the 12-inch Supersonic Wind Tunnel as the first wind tunnel at JPL.
Reports and brochures about the history of aerodynamic facilities at JPL usually identify the 12-inch Supersonic Wind Tunnel as the first wind tunnel at JPL. It went into operation in 1949. However, in October 1947, this small induction wind tunnel was being used in studies of air-fuel combustion and turbulence. Studies were conducted by Division 2 (Thermal Jet Propulsion), which included Section 1 (Research Analysis), Section 10 (Ramjet), and Section 13 (Wind Tunnels).
This wind tunnel was located in building 106, also known as the Thermal Jet Test Cell. The cooling tower for the test cell can be seen in the background. This facility no longer exists, but it was located northeast of building 79 (former home of the 20-inch Hypersonic Wind Tunnel).
[Archival Sources: JPL Facts and Facilities, HC3-280; Performance of the 12-Inch Wind Tunnel, Memo 4-52; JPL maps; organization charts; telephone books; and Section 326 photo albums and indexes.]
Before personal computers, web sites, email, smart phones, and social media were commonplace, JPL posted mission photos on a bulletin board in the mall, with a caption by each photo. This was the only way for most employees to see the images that were released to the public.
In July 1976, JPL celebrated the arrival of the Viking 1 lander on Mars. Many images were received from the Viking orbiter and lander during that summer and some were assembled (by hand) into panoramas and mosaics. Photos were displayed by closed-circuit television during the landing event to groups of visitors in a few locations on Lab, and were filmed or broadcast by visiting news crews. Hard copy photos were distributed to the news media. A small set of images from each JPL mission was typically selected for distribution to all JPLers, along with a letter of congratulations and thanks for their contributions. Decades later, many of these photographs and lithographs have found their way to the JPL Archives.
For more information about the history of JPL, contact the JPL Archives for assistance. [Archival and other sources: JPL photo albums and indexes; JPL Annual Reports, and The Viking Mission to Mars.]
Even before Hughes Aircraft Company was selected as the contractor that would design and build the Surveyor landers, JPL began conducting tests of materials that would help to cushion the impact of a moon landing. It was to be a soft landing, in contrast to the Ranger crash landings, but there would still be a drop of about 13 feet, where the Surveyor vernier engines would cut off and the lander would free fall to the surface of the moon.
The lander had a tripod structure, with hydraulic shock absorbers in the landing legs. JPL also planned to use three blocks on the underside of the lander, one near each leg, that would absorb some of the impact. Various materials, sizes, and configurations were tested, including aluminum tubes and sheets, some formed into a hexagonal honeycomb pattern. The JPL Photolab took dozens of photos for the Engineering Research Section (354) which are identified simply as “crushable materials” and they show several series of tests completed in 1960-1962. The results were reported in JPL’s bimonthly Space Programs Summaries and other technical reports.
For more information about the history of JPL, contact the JPL Archives for assistance. [Archival and other sources: Surveyor Mission Reports; various Space Programs Summaries; RS36-5, vol. 2; Section 354 photo indexes, JPL telephone books and organization charts.]
Surveyor mission planning began in 1960. The mission included seven spacecraft that would soft land on the Moon, using three vernier engines and a retrorocket. The spacecraft would collect data and images of the surface, in order to ensure a safe landing for Apollo astronauts a few years later. Hughes Aircraft Company was selected to design and build the landers and the project was managed by JPL, which also provided tracking and communications. Surveyor I was launched on May 31, 1966, landed on the Moon June 2, and sent back more than 11,000 photos of the lunar surface. The entire image set from Surveyors 1-7 has recently been digitized, and will soon be added to NASA’s Planetary Data System.
This image was created by Hughes artist Carlos Lopez. It was used in a Surveyor poster, which was a common practice in the days before computer aided drawing. This poster was recently received by the JPL Archives, as part of a collection of Surveyor documentation.
For more information about the history of JPL, contact the JPL Archives for assistance. [Archival and other sources: Surveyor Mission Reports, Ranger and Surveyor Fact Sheet, and the NASA Historical Data Book.]