There is no dream too big for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Since it was formed, in 1936, JPL has pushed the limits of exploration. By focusing primarily on the construction of robotic spacecraft, the creative and determined team has repeatedly made history. In 1958, JPL created and launched America’s first satellite, Explorer 1. Currently, the Mars Science Laboratory is one of JPL’s largest missions. For decades, the team has been sending instruments, devices and robots to the Red Planet to determine whether there has ever been life on Mars.
JPL had trouble at the beginning of the Mars Science Laboratory. The earliest missions to the Red Planet failed, and equipment did not work properly. The team learned from these errors and developed more-advanced instruments. In November 2011, JPL sent a high-tech rover called Curiosity to Mars. The journey was 285 million miles long and took eight months. JPL hoped for a smooth landing, and their planning paid off: The rover remained intact and started working according to plan.
Curiosity has 17 high-powered cameras that serve as eyes on the ground. The rover’s arm can scoop up soil and analyze it on board. Chemical sniffers sample the Martian air for carbon compounds, the building blocks and by-products of life. A long-distance laser blasts rocks to study their chemistry. So far, the Curiosity rover has been an extraordinary success. Its cameras have produced the clearest pictures of Mars ever taken. Scientists hope Curiosity will continue to gather information as to whether or not there was once life on Mars.
For their remarkable determination and incredible exploration efforts, the scientists who work for NASA’s JPL are nominees for TFK’s 2012 People of the Year.