Space enthusiasts, conspiracy theorists and kids-at-heart rejoice: There are orbit-bound robots hidden away in the San Gabriel Mountains foothills and you can visit them.
Once a year, NASA and Caltech open the doors to its robotic research lab for two days of tours, demos and presentations. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) oversees the research, fabrication and piloting of unmanned missions like Voyager and the Mars rovers.
Due to the event’s incredible popularity, JPL has switched to a timed ticketing system in recent years—and it’s gone a long way in reducing the traffic congestion getting in and the dizzying lines once inside. Admission is still free, but all guests will be required to have a ticket to enter. For this year’s event, held May 18 and 19, free tickets (limit five per person) will be distributed beginning at 8am on April 6.
One of the highlights of the open house is a bird’s-eye view of the clean room where the probes come together—and this year you’ll be able to spot the under-construction Mars 2020 rover. Other highlights include a tour of mission control, a walk through of the machine shop and an open-air display of rover prototypes.
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JPL's annual open house makes me happy to see that so many people in Southern California are interested in science. On the other hand, literally everyone and their brother shows up for the event. You're going to hit horrific traffic on the freeway, so consider slightly-less-terrible surface streets or biking your way there. Also, go first thing in the morning to avoid the worst of the soul crushing lines and inevitable heat (seriously consider skipping it if the temperature is above 90). With all of that negative talk out of the way, this is an amazing, inspirational and memorable event. The clean rooms, machine shops and robotics labs are all simply fascinating, and an unbelievable treasure to have in our own backyard. This is an essential event to attend, at least once or twice.