Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Pasadena Olympic Team

It was a lot of fun watching the JPL team Sunday night as they anticipated the landing of the Mars rover Curiosity. They maintained outward calm as Curiosity approached the planet's surface, but one could watch their cheekbones get tighter and breaths grow more shallow as the anticipation built.

When the cheering broke out I took pictures of the computer screen, but those didn't turn out so well. So I thought I'd show you a picture of where it all happened. No, this is not Mars, this is NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, scooched up between the feet of the foothills at the north end of Hahamongna Watershed Park, where it takes up space in La Canada Flintridge with a Pasadena address. Go figure.

It's amazing what these scientists have done. They've landed a craft on Mars, with precision, and they've done it basically with tin cans, rubber-bands and string. Imagine what they could do with an actual budget--a budget, say, half the size of the Pentagon's. Or even a quarter of that. We'd have had resort hotels and spaceports on Pluto by now and Pluto is only a plutoid.

The people who landed the rover Sunday night are not the only folks who work at JPL. The geniuses and support staff working there, some of whom I'm privileged to call friends and neighbors, study everything from the earth's oceans and atmosphere to the planets in our solar system to background radiation in deep space. Every time we walk at Hahamongna I think of them. What a privilege. What a team.


dive said...

They're gold medallists in my book, Petrea. JPL must be an awesome place to work. Looks like they even have an English sky to make me feel at home.

Talking of Pluto: they're almost there. They set off from the feet of the foothills (love that phrase), via Cape Canaveral in Jan 2006 and in July 2015 we'll have our very first visit to the non-planet.

Yay, NASA!

John Sandel said...

What fragrant xenomorph, its schlep come 'round at last, slouches toward Hahamongna?

dive said...

Would Yeats have considered Boz fragrant?
One would hope so.
He's definitely got a good slouch going for him.

Petrea Burchard said...

A shape with Boxer body and the head of a mutt,
A gaze blank and brainless as a bean,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant little toads.

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


Petrea Burchard said...

I took the picture in May of 2011, Dive. It's hot and sunny here right now.

I am veryveryvery excited for the Pluto landing.


That is an amazing, moody sky. I have the greatest respect for the JPL team. During the bit of time I lived in Pasadena, they were spoken of in the most revered tones. Nice to see them grabbing headlines like this.

Speedway said...

A columnist for a local paper, in London to cover the Games, wrote about the health of British journalism, the number of papers, etc. Hahahahaha. Ha. I've had to turn to the BBC website for coverage of Curiosity's landing as there are no articles and virtually no pictures about it on our Daily Blur's website.

Clifford Beshers said...

Joan Didion wrote a book called Slouching Towards Bethlehem. I remember nothing of it except the beginning, where she is leaving New York. She remembers arriving, breathless, from California, anxious to be in a place where there is an endless stream of people to meet. She shrugs off the warning from someone on their way out that the parties have become boring, because they are always full of the same people. She writes this as she is leaving New York, tired of the parties always full of the same people. I am grateful for a universe where we can place a new footprint where there are no parties yet.

LOLfromPasa said...

Hear, hear, Petrea! A great effort by 7000 engineers and technician in 37 American States and 11 other countries. An excellent vehicle for international space exploration and cooperation. AND, what a lovely photo of man's best friend.

jmgrimes said...

Just to set the record straight about the Pluto mission - It's called New Horizons, and was built and managed by Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory. (APL, not JPL!) with NASA funding.

It's not a lander, but a flyby. Nevertheless, we can expect to see wonderful pictures and awesome science, and it too is a remarkable achievement.

dive said...

Not so much a landing as a flypast of Pluto, Petrea … unless of course things go messily wrong. But no less exciting for all that.
The rest of the World loves NASA way more than we love the US military; it would help America's standing inestimably were they to swap budgets.

Petrea Burchard said...

We still revere them, Lulu.

Speedway, I'm sorry to hear that. And they wonder why we turn to the internet.

Cliff, I wonder if there will come a day when we get tired of the parties on Mars.

Thank you, LOL. When we tell Boz we're going out to Hahamongna we don't say that--too many syllables. We tell him we're going to JPL and he gets excited.

James and Dive, thank you both for setting me straight and for disappointing me at the same time. But credit where credit is due, of course!

Deb said...

A considerable achievement by the JPL, congratulations all round.
Nothing wrong with slow thighs Boz, dignified is what they are. Always had a soft spot for the Joni Mitchell take on Slouching towards Bethlehem myself.

Bellis said...

I got lots of coverage of Curiosity's landing from my FB friends at Caltech, but woke up too late to watch it live online from England (where the Olympics sadly eclipsed the coverage). It was a huge relief to hear that it had worked, as the way of delivering it to the surface of Mars was so novel and complicated. Like something from a scifi movie! I saw a moving model of Curiosity at the JPL Open Day, and it was HUGE compared to Spirit and Opportunity. My husband even got to see it being assembled in the JPL clean room, how cool is that?

Laura Monteros said...

jmgrimes--JPL has something to do with New Horizons. At least, they sent a speaker to the von Karman lectures a couple years ago. Not sure what, though.

Laura Monteros said...

Petrea, I was there too and wrote an article for Altadenablog. It was absolutely amazing! I got a video of everyone cheering.


Ann Erdman said...

I saw a fascinating TV interview early this morning with Adam Steltzner, JPL's leader of the entry, descent and entry (EDL) team.

He was a musician in a rock-and-roll band. On his way home from a gig, he noticed the stars in the night sky were different than those he saw on his way to the gig.

He decided to go to his local community college to learn more about astronomy, than got his bachelor's degree in engineering, then a master's, then his Ph.D. And all because he looked up that night.

It's so interesting to hear how people find the paths to their careers, and he certainly got a dream job.

By the way, at JPL they call him Elvis!

Petrea Burchard said...

Deb, Boz has a dignified slouch.

Bellis, I'm not surprised the Olympic coverage eclipsed that of the Mars landing, though for me Mars is more exciting.

Do you realize four people commented from England today? (and one of them is not LondonLulu!) My evil plan is working!

Wonderful article, Laura, how exciting! I had no idea they had the "party" at the Convention Center. The video is exuberant.

Petrea Burchard said...

We love Adam Steltzner in these parts. He's a rock star. Ha! Get it? Rock. Star.


LOLfromPasa said...


BettyS said...

Boz can join the JPL team any day! Engineers tend to slouch a lot so he'll fit right in. As to New Horizons, JPL has some roles, most likely doing some Mission Control, Spacecraft tracking via the Deep Space Network, and (my area) archiving the data via the Planetary Data System. The central data catalog is as JPL, with data dispersed to various "nodes" around the country. pds.jpl.nasa.gov for the curious.

Petrea Burchard said...

Oh, BettyS, thank you. You don't know how you just upped my cred.

Katie said...

Your dramatic photo definitely makes it looks like serious stuff goes on at JPL. Such fun to watch the coverage of the landing, and I think it's funny how Bobak Ferdowsi is now getting lots of attention because of his mohawk and stars hairdo. I wonder if they'll sell a mini model of Curiosity like they did for the Sojourner rover. Might be a way to raise money for the cause. (And now I wish I'd kept the cute Sojourner model instead of giving it to a long-gone boyfriend!)

BettyS said...

Petrea, I could throw in some acronyms to be really impressive, if you'd like? :) Actually, it has been so great to read and hear all of the praise for the place I work.

Petrea Burchard said...

Katie, I think it's great that the JPL folks are getting fans, even if it's only for the moment. After all, they contribute so much more to our society than guitarists movie stars do, and believe me, I love guitarists and movie stars. (And I think his hairstyle is called "nebula and stars," not "mohawk and stars"...)

Betty, you're already impressive just by working there. And by having charming dogs.

Katie said...

Wow there's actually a formal name for Ferdowsi's hair style? I was just describing it! Not that I'll ever ask for a "nebula and stars" next time I'm at the beauty parlor. Kudos to all of them, even the ones without named hair.

Ms M said...

Great tribute to the JPL folks! And you even include a charming dog ;-)

Petrea Burchard said...

Sorry, Katie, I was kidding. But maybe they should call it a comet.

Ha! I happen to know at least a few JPL folks like dogs, Ms. M.

Susan Campisi said...

I'm late just as I was late to the landing party. I caught the clip of the JPL viewing room on The Daily Show. It was so fun to see them all cheering. Apparently the Mohawk Guy is getting twitter marriage proposals.

I love how Boz makes an appearance in this post.

Petrea Burchard said...

Scientists can be hot. There was more than one looker in that room.