Straight out of a conspiracy theorist’s fantasy, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory—or JPL for short—is carved into a San Gabriel Mountains hillside next to a dry riverbed that hosted rocket experiments in the ’30s. The Caltech-managed facility is mostly in the business of robots; it has overseen the research, fabrication and piloting of unmanned missions with the Voyager probes and the Mars rovers. Though JPL’s annual open house sells out almost immediately, reservations for daily tours of mission control and the assembly clean room typically become available about five months in advance.
One L.A. industry has produced ambitious success stories, created American icons and glued a global audience to TV sets. We’re referring to the aerospace industry, of course (sorry, movie studios and TV show tapings). You can trace humanity-defining moments, from the Moon landing to the Mars rover launches, back to research facilities and fabrication centers in Southern California cities like Downey and Pasadena. We may not be able to travel to our planetary neighbors or to the edge of our solar system (yet), but visiting these historic sites is the next best thing.