Sunday, September 22, 2002  [!]

Today's the first day of autumn. For the last day of summer, I attended the JPL family day. Cool. First time I've been on the lab in eons, and first time seeing all the way cool jazzy stuff they put on display for visiting family and friends of staff.

Lots of Mars stuff was featured. And yes, I took pictures.

The Mars Rover. These are for the MER óMars Exploration Rover mission taking place next year. Two rockets will launch (May and July of next year) two rovers to land at two different sites in January 2004.

mars lab bouncing ball:
Here the MER arrives on mars using bouncing ball technology, for a safe and happy landing

rover side view:
Once the balls are deflated (see bottom), the petals of the MER open up...

mars rover:
...and the rover will roll out...

rover on red rocks:
...and roam all over the red rocked planet.

The red-rocks you see here are part of the Mars Lab, where the rover is tested for maneuvering and to calibrate motions and camera images and such. (the red rocks are from Arizona, not the red planet!)

BTW, when these rovers land on Mars, there'll be no "self-portrait" images of the rovers themselves. What lands on Mars is the petal-shaped enclosure that is wholly occupied by the Rover. The camera and means of communication with earth are all onboard, so unless they can do a fancy maneuver to flap up the solar panel to get a reflection and take a picture, all we'll see is 'outward.'

Okay... now that you've got an idea from seeing all these Mars Rover prototypes, how about a look at the real thing?

We also visited the Spacecraft Assembly Facility, where the two rovers were being built!

spacecraft assembly facility:
Overlooking half of the Spacecraft Assembly Facility, where two sets of crews were working on the Cruise module (lower left), and the actual Mars Rover (upper right).

star tracker:
The Cruise module crew works on the star tracker (conical shape).

installing air bags:
This crew installs the air bags on the outside (underside) of the petals of the Mars Rover.

Just remember... what you see in these pictures above is going to cross a great chasm and go visit our neighbor planet!!! Cool, eh?

We also went to the Machine shop where various parts of the spacecraft are manufactured.

rover wheel:
This rover wheel is constructed from a single slug of aluminum. (For its size, it's pretty light; that's my shoulder and forearm you see, and fingers peeking through the center.) Cost of wheel: $5000.

machine shop:
Inside the Machine Shop all all manner of devices; this big beige one lifts and can tilt seven different ways to hold spacecraft parts at any angle.

my young apprentice:
Here a machinist guides a young apprentice through the steps to bore precise channels out of metal.

Mars Art photos of Mars, from the Mars Orbiter Camera