Have you ever wondered were the rovers we send to Mars are built, or where spacecraft that explore the cosmos return their data to Earth? In a typical year, over 30,000 people visit NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in-person; now, for the first time ever, you can see the Southern California facility from anywhere in the world on a virtual tour.
The interactive tour takes visitors to several locations at the 177-acre laboratory, which together provide an overview of JPL’s rich history and its many space missions, past and present. Each location is embedded with dozens of points of interest – including videos, fun facts, and images. For example, you can drop by the control room for the Deep Space Network, where JPL staff communicate with every NASA spacecraft flying beyond the orbit of the Moon. Click on one of the embedded links to see in real-time which spacecraft are returning data to each of the three Deep Space Network facilities based around the world.
You can also visit the spacecraft assembly facility, where engineers and technicians are constructing future spacecraft inside a clean room. Dozens of orbiters, landers, and rovers have been assembled in this room since 1962. Logos for all missions built here adorn the far wall; click on them to learn more about each mission.
In the von Kármán Auditorium and the lab’s Visitor Center Museum, you can learn about JPL’s early years, including its involvement in launching America’s first satellite, Explorer 1, which led to the formation of NASA. You’ll also find full-scale models of some of our most beloved spacecraft, including Voyager, Galileo, and the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity in these rooms.
“Seeing JPL from the inside is an amazing experience, and we hope this virtual tour creates the same sense of wonder,” said Veronica McGregor, manager of JPL’s Digital News and Media Office. “We plan to expand the tour with more locations later this year so people can return over and over.”
The virtual lab tour is a collaboration of the JPL Digital News and Media Office and the Public Services Office, which handles in-person tours and other visitor activities. The tour staff’s expertise, honed from ushering thousands of visitors through the lab each year, was invaluable in creating the dozens of points of interest included in each virtual tour stop. In-person tours at JPL have been suspended since March 2020 due to the pandemic.
A next goal is to create hosted virtual tours for classrooms. “Our staff will now be working virtually with schools and teachers to help them navigate this new online tour of JPL,” said Kim Lievense, manager of the Public Services Office. “As with our in-person tours, specific points of interest were designed with grade-appropriate curriculum in mind.”