It has been a busy 13 days. I’m not sure I can remember all of the things that have happened… I’ll have to rely on my automaton-like propensity for snapping pictures in order to navigate and narrate the past 312 hours. I suppose there is nothing left to do but get started.
Ahh, here’s a clue… Judging from this poster it appears that I have been working at JPL’s Non Destructive Evaluation and Advanced Actuators (NDEAA) lab. Many cutting-edge technologies and life-saving discoveries come from national research laboratories like JPL and from people who, I have discovered, care an awful lot about humanity’s future. Every single day I stumble upon something else that reminds me how fortunate I am to be a part of this all. Click on this picture and strap in for a mind-blowing.
It’s all coming back now… Here’s another highlight from my whirlwind week-and-a-half: Dr. Charles Elachi– Director of JPL–gave a great talk detailing JPL’s storied history and plans for the future. I’m still waiting for him to reply to my lunch invitation, but not holding my breath. He is a super busy guy. (Edit 7/18/14: Removed picture due to possible proprietary information contained, will check into it. Thanks Alex!)
Oh, and here’s a picture of one of the coolest things I got to do! After some valuable safety training, I was allowed into the MDL clean room as an observer while MC Lee broke it down Gangnam style! This place is the heart and soul of the Micro Devices Lab. I got the grand tour.
In the MDL clean room, fantastically tiny and sensitive devices are constructed, often from vaporized metals or other elements in vacuum chambers, atoms at a time.
It’s called a “clean room” because it is kept 99.999% free of dust particles through air filtering and other careful practices. Prior to entering, everyone must take a high-speed air shower before donning hermetically sealed protective clothing (called a bunnysuit), gloves, eyewear, and a mask.
Yours truly all bunnied up and looking snazzy.
The precision achieved here at the JPL Micro Devices Lab could easily be ruined by a single mote of dust in the wrong place. Or by a clumsy intern. We escaped disaster.
Some of the rooms are surrounded by glass that filters out undesired colors of light. The light sources (bulbs, tubes, etc) inside these rooms are also filtered. Many of the materials used for device construction in these rooms are light-sensitive and must be developed carefully, much like camera film. The wrong wavelengths of light could prematurely develop the materials.
There is a ton of chemistry being done in here. I distinctly recall this particularly evil but effective cleaning mixture of sulfuric acid and hydrogen peroxide. It is called Piranha because it eats everything (except the glass.)
The clean room is full of life-saving features, like the HEPA filters behind the sinks that constantly clean the air and suck away deadly Piranha fumes and pesky allergens, and the conveniently located huge red buttons that shut everything down and let everyone know to immediately evacuate the lab.
After a thrilling tour, I didn’t want to leave. But I had to get back to work in another part of the building, presumably. Hopefully I get to go back in here soon to do some work of my own!
Ahh, this looks familiar. So in a different lab, called the Robodome, I got a chance to witness an awesome demonstration of formation flight technology. This setup consists of a base robot which hovers above the flat aluminum floor on a cushion of pressurized air, accompanied by the flying saucer-like robot perched atop its steel ball (also levitating via pneumatic flow). This effectively enables zero-friction flight which is directed and powered by half a dozen or so tiny compressed air thrusters. Research in this lab is being conducted to learn how to precisely control formation arrays of deep-space robots in order to more accurately characterize the fabric of reality. The project’s secondary goal is to discover a way to ensure at least another 8 seasons of Futurama… OK I just made that part up.
Interesting… In my exploration of the complex of buildings at JPL, I must have also found this poster of one of the twin Mars rovers, either Spirit or Opportunity, located on a wall in one of the labs where they were built and tested. Hey wait, that looks like a GIANT CLEAN ROOM!
Poster of terrain mobility testing being carried out by JPL scientists, engineers, and technicians.
One more great shot of one of the twin rovers, either Opportunity or Spirit.
Poster of proud JPLers–probably in the enormous High Bay cleanroom, with one of their recently-finished tetrahedral airbag Mars Rover Landers. Circa 2002 or ’03.
Hey, I vaguely remember this part of my week too! Apparently, the 2014 Aerospace Summer Games are getting close, and I volunteered to be captain of JPL’s 3 dodgeball teams! I have been minimally organizing and coordinating these fearsome warriors who need no leader. We will accept nothing short of total victory.
Shown here exhausted but still hungry for more action, participants in the second dodgeball practice session had to be forced to stop playing due to unsafe visibility conditions caused by the Earth’s incessant rotation.
I and some friends also visited Griffith Observatory! This was once a great place to watch the stars–back before Los Angeles sprawled out and started belching light and smog into the night like some kind of colossal cigar-puffing neon land-squid… Just kidding, the air quality is much better than it used to be, I am told by some natives. Anywho, Griffith is really cool on the inside and has a more than a century of history on display. My friends and I, for 5 bucks, gazed at space and time remarkably painted across the ceiling of the Planetarium, accompanied by achingly dissonant music and the soothing but oddly emphasized words of a live narrator. Well worth the long walk up the hill.
Check out this dope ceiling mural up-close by clicking on it’s mysterious textures… Griffith Observatory was full of much beauty, knowledge, history, and a nice big Tesla Coil, sorry no pics…
But here’s something else: Griffith Observatory exhibit on Explorer 1, the first US satellite. Built by the folks at JPL in the 50’s. Explorer 1 was the first human satellite with a science payload, discovered the Van Allen Radiation Belt, and was hidden at times in a closet at what is now the JPL library in order to avoid detection by rival military satellite development teams. Thanks for that tidbit, Mickey!
Another beautiful and educational display inside Griffith Observatory.
Griffith Observatory, lower level gallery. Holy cow, the marvelous wonder of our solar system!
Wait, there are no skeletons at Griffith… This picture must have been taken at the Page Museum near the La Brea Asphalt Pits. As you can see, our extinct friend was freaking gigantic. The American Mastodon (again, if I remember correctly) could grow up to 13 feet tall and routinely stomped cave men into tiny bits and pieces to stave off the boredom of living in a world without books. It did this pretty much every day for like 10,000 years until we finally learned how to make spears, at which time it developed a sweet tooth for tar, and the rest is natural history 😉
Here are dozens more casualties of the La Brea Asphalt Pits’ relentless and gloppy grip–the Wall of Dire Wolf Misfortune.
Oh, and here is the entrance to another fantastic place in Los Angeles- the California Science Center! We came here to check out Endeavor, the mighty space shuttle. First, though, we watched a movie in the Science Center’s IMAX theater about the history of the Hubble Telescope and the many shuttle missions to repair and upgrade it. It was narrated by Leo DiCaprio like a boss.
The Air and Space Exhibit was jaw-dropping. I’ve lost count of the things seen throughout my stay here in Cali that have made me wonder: “Have I been sleeping for 30 years?” How did I not know that NASA astronauts have landed on the moon six times? Not just once. Six times. Is that amazing to anyone else but me?
Seeing this real-life space ship brought tears to my eyes. It was hard for me to talk to my friends for a little bit. Of course, many family-oriented feature-length cartoons also have that effect on me, but this was different. Along three walls were the details of all 135 mission flights of the United States’ Space Shuttle Program. The efforts of thousands of scientists, engineers, dreamers, thinkers, and pioneers made possible this unequaled era of human exploration and discovery that all occurred within in my generation’s lifetime, and that I was mostly unaware of until this summer. Better late than never. The next chapter will be even better, and written in large part by NASA and JPL.
Space Shuttle Endeavor’s business end.
Hey, here is something else super cool that happened to me! I went surfing for the first time! JPL Scientist and surfer/mountain unicyclist Morgan Cable graciously accompanied my friends and I to Newport Beach and taught us the basics of not being catapulted to our humiliation and injury! Here are 3 of my surfing buddies, Steve-O the Magnificent, Stephanie, and Fil. Surely better road companions than these do not exist.
Post ocean-induced happiness with Adam, Nicole, Steve-O, Francesco, Stephanie, Kristen, Kelly, Me, Morgan, Fil, and Laura.
Hmm… It appears that I also took a trip to the Hollywood Walk of Fame with some friends and took a picture of the Chinese Theater.
Saw the iconic Hollywood sign from far away… Hey, is that the Griffith Observatory up there?
Incongruous alabaster elephant deities on massive columns overlooking what I soon realized was a Temple of Tourism and Consumerism, 3rd floor mall in Hollywood.
Not so many tourists flocking to this building…
This is Anwell. He helped Stephanie and I traverse the miles of unfamiliar and forgotten stars and starlets of yesteryear to find the really important ones, like George Takei! ZOMG!
Stephanie is disappoint-Wolverine’s physique leaves much to be desired.
Walking along, I noticed a familiar star on the sidewalk beneath my feet. Here is a group of musicians who have made arguably one of the biggest positive impacts of any band on several generations of a narrow but important demographic: adolescent male science fiction enthusiasts! I was one myself once, not so long ago, and I still feel the echoes of Rush’s shrill and mathematical brand of space rock.. From their epic overture Tom Sawyer, I offer a profound bit of lyric: “…The world is, the world is, love and life are deep… maybe as his eyes are wide…” -Rush
Another band whose imaginative music captured the hearts and minds of multiple generations. For a brief, shining, gloriously coiffed moment these gentlemen straddled the pinnacle of rock stardom in tight jeans and leopard print vests. True love won’t desert you, Steve!
Just a couple of swell guys.
Another swell guy.
My man Tom Jones, the swellest of guys.
Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Blade Runner, Apocalypse Now, The Fugitive, Ender’s Game… you deserve a star, sir.
Stunning painted wall in a Hollywood alley.
Worth taking a picture of and including, for his many contributions to science fiction as well as actual science discovery.
Castles made of sand…
Stephanie near Gene Roddenberry’s star. You know, the creator of Star Trek. I just learned that his ashes were put into Earth orbit by the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1992. Not long afterwards they of course burned up in reentry, boldly going where no one had gone before.
Wow, it appears that I have been making the most of my time here at JPL. Thanks to my wife, Vania, for taking care of things and people at home. I love you and our girls, sweet heart. Also, thanks go out to Mary Phillips and everyone at Tulsa Community College for enabling me to take part in this life-changing experience, and to David Seabolt and everyone at Cox Communications as well. I’m almost halfway done with it now, but not slowing down any. And if you have made it this far with me, you deserve some kind of reward. Like a bonus at the end of the credits of a movie, only halfway through… ok, how’s this?