Today R2 and I visited Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA.
We were joined by R2 builders (and their droids) Vince Sanchez (R5-D4), Chris Romines (R2-A1), Mike Senna (Dee-Dee from the Pink 5 fan film series), and Jerry Chevalier (also R5-D4), and many other costumed characters from the 501st and Rebel Legion.
First up, a visit to the Mars Exploration Rover mission planning room, where photos were not allowed (at least, by us; JPL took some that we may get soon). The actual rover drive and science sequencing planning was taking place, and we got to sit in on the live conference. It was quite interesting!
Next stop, the building housing Mars Science Laboratory, the next rover that will be heading to Mars. This rover is huge, roughly the size of a car, and is scheduled to launch in 2011. It is not quite buttoned up yet, and I didn't get the best picture in the world of it, but here it is.
Also in this building is the sandbox that is being used as a test bed to help free the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit. Since May 2009, Spirit has been stuck in a sand pit on Mars. Making matters worse, there is a large, pointy rock under Spirit that is likely scraping the bottom of the rover. Engineers are using this sandy test bed to figure out the best way to attempt to free Spirit from this hazard. I have been following this saga on JPL's web site, so it was fascinating to see some of it in person. (Incidentally, we were told the reason for the camouflage-looking surface in front of the rover is to provide a background that will help it detect its own motion. The background is otherwise too vague.)
We also saw a humongous creation that is hard to describe, called Athlete. Suffice it to say it is huge and versatile, and may one day be used for a manned mission to Mars.
The next stop was the museum, which houses a full-sized replica of the Mars Exploration Rovers and Mars Pathfinder, among other cool items.
After we were done with the tour, it was time for the second component of our visit, as guests/entertainment of JPL's Halloween Pageant. The droids and costumed characters mingled with the JPL employees at lunch time.
We took a group shot to wrap up a highly enjoyable visit. Hopefully we can come back some day.
The entire photoset is here.