Who We Are
Have you been awed by views of desolate Martian valleys, swirling storms above Jupiter, and the icy blades ringing Saturn? Then you have journeyed with JPL spacecraft and rovers.
We are humanity’s leading center for exploring where humans cannot yet reach. Our spacecraft have flown to every planet and the Sun in a quest to understand our place in the universe, and to search for the possibility of life beyond Earth. Our missions honor the relentless pursuit of the explorer: Voyager, Curiosity, Cassini, Galileo.
It was a JPL camera at the edge of the solar system that looked back at our own planet, capturing a pale blue dot in the darkness.
Explorer I was our first spacecraft, and its success in 1958 lifted America into the Space Age and led to the formation of NASA.
We observe our home planet with missions to study our climate and assist in disaster recovery. We discover distant worlds with telescopes such as Hubble, for which JPL designed ingenious corrective optics.
The giant antenna dishes of our Deep Space Network capture signals from nearly all spacecraft launched by the world into outer space.
Technology invented at JPL benefits all of us. We talk and swap data wirelessly because JPL scientists learned to send messages digitally across millions of miles. Techniques and camera sensors used widely to process signals and images were born here.
JPL is a federally-funded research and development center managed by Caltech for NASA. We are your space program.
Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure ... than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.
The Roots of JPL
We don't make jets or rockets, so why are we called the Jet Propulsion Laboratory?
It all started in the 1930s in Pasadena, California, when a group of Caltech graduate students and amateur rocket enthusiasts began experimenting with rocket motors. Unable to test the motors at Caltech due to risk of fires or explosions, they set up in the Arroyo Seco, a mostly dry wash on Pasadena’s west border. As global tensions rose before World War 2, their rocket tests caught the attention of the U.S. Army, which began sponsoring development of rocket technology and missile systems.
After the war, interest in space exploration spawned a rivalry between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. When the Soviets launched their Sputnik satellite into Earth orbit in October 1957, the Space Race heated up. To catch up, JPL built Explorer 1, which launched in January 1958 and became the first American Earth-orbiting satellite. Later that year, NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) was founded, and JPL was transferred to the agency by the Army. Since then, JPL has abandoned rocket development for space exploration, but remained under management by Caltech, which is several miles away in Pasadena. And the rest...is space history.
Tour JPL: Go to https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/oh/ for information on Explore JPL, our annual free ticketed open house.
Work at JPL: We support the economy of Southern California with more than 6,000 full-time positions. Browse https://jpl.jobs/ for career opportunities and internships.
Learn more: Visit jpl.nasa.gov.
Historic timeline: Explore our interactive timeline to learn how JPL has been reaching for the stars since 1939.