I told someone on Saturday:
“This Monday will be the best day of work I have all year, I’ll be all jazzed up to be a JPL Employee because I get why we do what we do. Tuesday will be a whole different story, but Monday will be fantastic!”
This weekend, Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) held our annual open-ish house. While free to the public, it is a limited release ticketed program that allows nearly 30,000 people onto our campus to look around, see some exhibits, and learn a few things on what JPL is currently working on. A couple hundred of us JPLers staff the program as volunteers – something that I did for the second time since starting here. While the days are long, hot, and tiring, it’s also the best way to recharge the excitement for what we do around here.
I’ve been told JPL has done an open house for almost two decades. Up until two or three years ago, it was literally an open house – allowing as many people who wanted to come for a visit come on up and take a look around. After all the successes with our Mars Missions, people just kept coming and coming and coming until safety became an issue. Once it was estimated that they had nearly 100,000 attendees attempt to do the open house … attempt as many had to be turned away either at the gate or miles away where the lines of cars were causing back-ups on the freeway. Now, to get a ticket, you have to request them on-line & choose a specific time & day for arrival. This year, the 30,000 tickets went in approximately 16 minutes.
It’s popular because it’s great access to the key areas of JPL – including the mission control center, the JPL Von Karmen auditorium and museum, and the Spacecraft Assembly Facility (SAF) or High Bay where the next great Mars Rover is under construction as we speak. Yet there are dozens of exhibits showing off the different parts of our facility, including the missions on the horizon & missions already launched. I worked a couple different exhibits tied to the directorate (Office of Safety & Mission Success) I am in. One was for the Environmental Affairs group — where we did animal selfies with cutouts of the different animals roaming around the lab. The other showed off the dangers of electrostatic discharge by running electrostatic machines intended to shock little kids and burn paper.
The real interest to me is begin able to interact with the folks visiting the lab. Granted part of that means you make up things. I mean, I’m a quality engineer. If someone asked me how long it takes to fly from here to Jupiter, I would pull out my phone and google the answer … literally, what they could do themselves. Someone asks me a smarter question … well, I come across sounding like a hillbilly trying to conjugate a verb: “I done don’t knows whats gots under them there astrodiodal thinger. Maybes they gots ice cream.”
Like I said, it’s really hard to get tickets – so folks have to be pretty committed to get here for this event. Everyone of them (that is over the age of childish fits of childhood) are ecstatic to be there and dig everything we have to show. A rare few show up in costume, but most bring mad t-shirt skills. They itch to learn what is being worked on, what we specifically are working on, and what it’s like to be at a NASA facility. While we get some goofy questions (like: “Is there a moon around Jupiter where diamonds are raining out of the sky?” or “How come you all don’t have hover boards to get around the lab?”) – so many people are genuinely interested and/or jealous that we work there that it rubs off on you. After two days of meeting so many nerds / geeks / fanboys; you realize just how cool it is to be working here.
So yeah, today was a great day of work.
Tomorrow – there’s at least two meetings I’m not looking forward to.
Footnote: if you are counting at home, this is Bear Feed Post #498 … the big milestone is coming soon.