JPL Jet Propulsion Laboratory
JPL is a federally-funded research and development center managed by Caltech for NASA. They are our space program. The origins of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory date back to the 1930s, with Caltech professor Theodore von Kármán’s pioneering work in rocket propulsion. Arroyo Seco, a dry canyon north of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California became their test site and future home for JPL.
In 1943, the Army asked von Kármán for a technical analysis of the German V-2 program and, in their proposal, the Caltech team referred to their organization as “the Jet Propulsion Laboratory,” for the first time. JPL and the Army Ballistic Missile Agency were responsible for the launch of Explorer 1 on January 31, 1958. Explorer 1, went beyond Sputnik by carrying the first space experiment, a Geiger counter developed by James Van Allen, which discovered belts of trapped radiation encircling Earth.
Explorer 1, and JPL prompted the formation of NASA. On December 3, 1958, two months after NASA started operations, JPL was transferred from Army jurisdiction to that of a new civilian space agency. The JPL brought to NASA experience in building and flying spacecraft, a background in solid and liquid rocket propulsion systems, guidance, control, systems integration, broad testing capability, and expertise in telecommunications using low-power spacecraft transmitters. JPL now covers some 168 acres (68 hectares) adjacent to the site of the early rocket experiments. It is NASA’s only Federally Funded Research and Development Center, operated for the agency by Caltech.
In the 1960s, JPL began to develop robotic spacecraft to explore other worlds. One of JPL’s greatest missions was Voyager. Launched in 1977, twin Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft flew by the planets Jupiter , and Saturn. In February 1998, Voyager 1 passed NASA’s Pioneer 10 and became the most distant human-made object in space. In August 2012, Voyager 1 crossed the heliopause to become the first spacecraft to enter interstellar space. Voyager 2 followed it, on Nov. 5, 2018
JPL’s Mars rover is named Perseverance. It was launched July 30, 2020. Instead of mineralogy, it will specialize in astrobiology and look specifically for signs of past life on Mars. JPL spacecraft have flown to every planet in our solar system, the moon and the sun.
JPL is the world’s leading center for exploring our solar system.