While five planets performed a rare and exquisite conjunction in the evening sky, over 500 people turned out Tuesday to honor NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for 40 years of planetary exploration. NASA's JPL launched the first successful mission to another planet -- Mariner 2 to Venus -- in 1962.
The Washington, D.C. tribute applauded JPL's legacy of exploring the planets and beyond. JPL's planetary spacecraft have visited all the planets of our solar system, except Pluto. Visible after twilight this week are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.
The event was attended by California congressional representatives Adam Schiff and David Dreier, as well as David Baltimore, president of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif.
Dr. Charles Elachi, director of JPL, noted how much has been gained in our knowledge of the planets over 40 years. "In 1962, I was a junior in high school and the chapter on astronomy in my science textbook had only a few pictures of the planets, consisting of bright dots in the sky as viewed through a telescope."
In contrast, he points out that today's schoolchildren "can put a CD in a computer and virtually fly over the landscape of Venus or Mars, or study the atmosphere of Jupiter using Galileo data."
JPL manages numerous space missions for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington D.C. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
News Media ContactJPL/Colleen Sharkey (818) 354-0372