Slice of History
On this page, the JPL Archivists share historical photos from the JPL Archives. The JPL Archives' mission is to document the rich organizational, mission, and cultural histories of the institution by identifying, collecting, preserving, and making available primary source materials that have value for research by users at JPL/Caltech/NASA and the wider public.
The content presented here should be viewed in the context of the time period. Our intent is to present the history of JPL in a factual manner that uses primary resources and historical context. We recognize that some information or images do not reflect the current values, policies, and mission of JPL.
We may be contacted for research services at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Santa in the Constellations
Conceived as a cover by JPLer Gene Breeskin, the December 1964 issue of Lab-Oratory was illustrated by David B. Willoughby of the JPL Reports group.
Mobile Chest X-Ray Unit
An example of JPL’s historical and ongoing approach to public health, these photos document an on-Lab X-Ray clinic that was hosted in conjunction with the Pasadena Tuberculosis Association.
22nd JPL/Caltech Alumni Seminar
JPL and Caltech have a close relationship that extends far beyond planetary exploration, Earth Science, and space-based astronomy. This photo, taken 13 April 1959, shows Caltech alumni and JPL employees mixing and mingling at an alumni event held on Lab.
International Day of Charity
JPL and Caltech have long been committed to partnering with United Way, playing just a small part in the much larger Los Angeles area effort to support a broad spectrum of United Way-supported social service and health care agencies.
Shocked by Voltage
35 years ago, JPL gained a cultural mascot: our very own Voltage the Raccoon!
20th Anniversary of Spirit & Opportunity
On Launch Complex 17-B, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the Delta II Heavy launch vehicle carrying the rover "Opportunity,” or “Oppy,” for the second Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission launched 7 July 2003 at 11:18:15PM EDT.
International Women in Engineering Day: Helen Ling
Helen Ling became a supervisor for the computing group in the 1960s, a team who was responsible for performing trajectory calculations. Throughout her time at JPL, Ling developed software for the IRAS, Magellan, TOPEX/Poseidon, and Mars Observer missions, and retired in 1994.
World Day for Cultural Diversity
JPL’s many ethnic, cultural and religious heritages fused into a colorful panorama around the warm and sunny Mall as the 1983 American Heritage Week was celebrated.
Records & Information Management Month
This photo, taken 7 October 1970, shows a “File Improvement Workshop,” which was a program on efficient filing procedures.
Phyllis Riggle’s Retirement
Phyllis Ward Riggle was one of the original female engineers at JPL. A 1944 graduate of Pomona College, Claremont, she joined JPL in 1950 as a member of the Computing Staff, and as a mathematician with various JPL groups.
Building 111 Then & Now
Building 111 has been standing on Lab for over 70 years! When this photo was taken in June 1952, you could find a plethora of resources in Building 111.
55th Anniversary of Surveyor 7 Launch
6 January marks the 55th anniversary of the launch of Surveyor 7! The last lunar lander of the American unmanned Surveyor program, Surveyor 7 was sent to explore the surface of the Moon in preparation for the upcoming Apollo missions.
Leonard Marsh’s ‘Arctic Suit’
This photo, taken 6 June 1955, depicts one of those skilled testers and the individual responsible for maintaining the Environmental Test Laboratory (ETL), Leonard Marsh, “model[ing] protective clothing which must be worn in the low temperature and humidity chamber [in the ETL, Building 82].”
Science In Vogue
Sixty years ago, the 1962 autumn issue of Vogue Australia featured a fashion spread that included an unlikely location backdrop – the Parkes Observatory radio telescope antennae in New South Wales, Australia.
Royal Visitors and Foreign Dignitaries at JPL
Throughout history, various foreign dignitaries, royals, and international VIPs have traveled from around the globe to witness the fantastic work of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA.
Happy 25th Anniversary, Cassini!
A joint endeavor of NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Italian Space Agency, Cassini spacecraft was a keystone of exploration of the Saturnian system and the properties of gaseous planets in our solar system.
Dr. Pickering becomes Lab Director
Dr. William H. Pickering began his tenure as Director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on this day in 1954.
45th Anniversary of Voyager 1 Launch
5 September 2021 marks the 45th anniversary of the Voyager 1 launch! Formerly known as Mariner Jupiter-Saturn 1977 or MJS77, Voyager is the most distant artificial object from Earth.
JPL Telephone System
11 August 2022 marks the 70th anniversary of JPL’s conversion to the dial telephone system! In 1952, the Lab had the largest and most modern telephone exchange in the entire Pasadena area, about 75% of the Lab’s incoming calls were direct-dialed.
JPL Sports & Recreation
JPL has a long-standing tradition of employee participation in sports and recreational activities that have enhanced the well-being of JPLers and contributed to team building here on Lab.
Then & Now: Space Flight Operations Facility (SFOF)
The Space Flight Operations Facility (SFOF) has been undergoing so many renovations over the past few years! This side-by-side, taken 1964-09-03 and 2021-09-21 show just how much SFOF has changed (or not) over time.
JPL Photo Lab
The JPL Photo Lab has been an integral part of the Lab throughout its tenure, creating a photographic record of JPL’s storied history. The JPL Photolab dates back to 1941, when it was first established by GALCIT Project No. 1, as JPL was then known.
70th Anniversary of Miss Guided Missile
It’s the 70th anniversary of JPL’s first Miss Guide Missile contest! Beginning in 1952, JPL held an annual contest for the All-Lab Summer Dance. A handful of women across Lab would become candidates, following a nomination and sponsorship from their respective supervisors.
50th Anniversary of Apollo 16
Fears of flawed systems, calling off the landing, inoperative radar, and a gimbal lock warning never stopped the astronauts guiding Apollo 16 to a safe lunar landing, making this the fifth American flag implanted on the Moon.
Happy International Women’s Day!
In celebration of Women’s History Month, the JPL Archives has put together a digital collection of historic women who have supported and continue to support the outstanding missions of JPL.
The Corporal Guided Missile Training School
On 17 July 1952, the first class of The Corporal Guided Missile Training School held its graduation ceremony at White Sands Proving Ground (WSPG), Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Polio Vaccinations at JPL
JPL’s long history of participating in local and public health campaigns has included raising money with United Way, hosting regular blood drives, and bringing visiting chest X-rays onsite.
Happy 25th Anniversary, Mars Pathfinder!
On 4 December 1996 at 1:58AM, a Delta II rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Station, Florida, carrying NASA/JPL's Mars Pathfinder probe.
Happy 130th Birthday, Caltech!
Happy 130th Birthday, Caltech! On 2 November 1891, Throop University, named for its founder, Amos Throop, was born.
50 Years of Mariner 9 in Orbit
13 November marks the 50th anniversary of Mariner 9 becoming the first spacecraft to orbit another planet in 1971 – Mars!
International Coffee Day
1 October is International Coffee Day! These images show just how long coffee has been an important part of any JPLer’s morning.
Happy 55th Anniversary, Surveyor II!
20 September marks the 55th anniversary of the launch of JPL’s spacecraft, Surveyor II! This lander/rover was destined for the Moon, carrying with it an imaging system intended to bring back an array of lunar photos.
60 Years of Ranger
August 23, 1961 marks the 60th anniversary of the failed launch of Ranger 1. Launched from Atlas Agena in Cape Canaveral, Florida, Ranger 1 was the first in a series of nine spacecraft launched in the early 1960s to explore the Moon.
The JPL Annual Picnic
A long-held summer and fall tradition is the JPL Picnic. Picnics were planned by a JPL Picnic Committee and occurred every year for JPL staffers and their families.
One major piece of JPL that we’ve all been missing during this work from home period is our friendly JPL deer! Though they stop traffic in the parking lot and run across the streets on Lab, the appearance of the deer happily signifies to the Lab that it’s finally springtime.
Happy Birthday, Dr. von Kármán!
140 years ago, on 11 May 1881, JPL founder, Dr. Theodore von Kármán, was born in Budapest, Austria-Hungary. Prolific mathematician, physicist, and aerospace engineer, von Kármán is responsible for multiple key advancements in aerodynamics, most notably his work on supersonic and hypersonic airflow characterization.
Slice of History - It’s National Librarian Day!
The library has always been an important part of JPL’s research culture, and has been a significant part of the Lab since at least the 1950s. These photos, taken 27 October 1952, show one of the early iterations of the JPL Library.
Advisory Council for Women (ACW) at JPL
To celebrate Women’s History Month, we’d like to highlight a very unique organization within JPL: the Advisory Council for Women (ACW).
75th Anniversary of WAC Corporal
22 March marks the 75th anniversary of the first American rocket to escape Earth’s atmosphere, the JPL-Ordnance WAC!
Famous JPL Visitors: Sidney Poitier
JPL has had many famous and interesting visitors over the years, from fellow scientists, to film industry stars, to musicians, to reporters, and many more. One of our most notable visits was from legendary actor and diplomat, Sidney Poitier.
1950s Sports Clubs
Were you hit by Cupid’s bow or just the JPL Archery Club!? In this photo, taken 27 March 1957, former President of the JPL Archery Club, Sr. Electronic Technician, Don Hoff “gets assistance from Marlene Foshay...Miss Guided Missile candidate, in the removal of a real misguided missile.”
JPL at the Rose Parade
Happy New Year! Courtesy of the Tournament of Roses Foundation, this photo depicts the JPL entry to the Rose Parade in January 1976.
Holidays at JPL
The holiday season has always been a jolly time at JPL. Starting as early as 1944, we see comical advertisements for the annual GALCIT Christmas Party.
JPL Blood Drives
JPL has been hosting bi-annual blood drives in conjunction with the Red Cross of America since at least 1951. This image, taken during the drive held 13 April 1955, depicts a JPL nurse drawing blood from a JPL donor.
Viking Orbiter 2 Anniversary
9 September 2020 marks the 45th anniversary of the launch of Viking Orbiter 2.
6 October celebrates the 30th anniversary of the launch of Ulysses.
Mask Training in 1957
In November 1957, Scott Aviation Corporation was invited to hold a training session next to the JPL fire station, demonstrating how to use their Scott Breath Air Pak.
Remembering Dr. Peter T. Lyman
This month we remember Dr. Peter T. Lyman, who passed away in May 2020, with a series of photos from his tenure as Deputy Director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Dr. Henry Richter working on Explorer 1 in 1957
In 2018 JPL celebrates the 60th anniversary of America’s first satellite, Explorer 1.
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).
Mariner Jupiter Saturn 1977
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.
Mars Pathfinder Rover Team, 1994
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.
Deep Space Network/Space Flight Operations Exhibit
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.
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.
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).
JPL’s First Digital Computer
In January 1953, JPL was in the market for its first digital computer.
Rocket Motor Test – 32nd Anniversary, 1968
On October 31, 1968 JPL celebrated the 32nd anniversary of the first rocket motor tests in the Arroyo Seco.
Goldstone Deep Space Instrumentation Facility
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).
Induction Wind Tunnel, 1947
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.