Wednesday, March 22, 2017

USC Class Visit

Tonight R2 and Gordon Tarpley as C-3PO were invited as special visitors for the class "The Star Wars Phenomenon," a course at USC that takes a look at Star Wars, the influences surrounding it, and featuring various guest speakers. USC has a renowned film school, and George Lucas has given generously to it over the years. Lynn Johnston facilitated our visit.

Our appearance was scheduled around 8:00pm, after a screening of Return of the Jedi, and before a discussion with ILM Visual Effects Supervisor (and USC alumnus) John Knoll and Supervising Sound Editor Matthew Wood. (R2 met Matthew and had his back panel signed back in 2012.).

I arrived early and stowed R2, so as not to blow his cover.

Around 6:00pm the movie started, and I watched along with the class in USC's Norris Theater on campus. Gordon arrived around 7:10pm and texted me, at which point I exited the theater to help him find his way over and suit up for our 8:00pm appearance. While we waited for the movie to end, I checked out the theater lobby, which included a tribute to Frank Sinatra, and the fanciest drinking fountain I've seen.

Lynn gave us the heads-up that the movie was about to finish, so we stepped outside and prepared for the onrush of the 350 students that were eagerly awaiting to meet the two droids. Moments later, the stampede was on.

The students wrapped up their photos just in time to get back into the theater to hear John and Matthew speak. I helped Gordon out of his C-3PO costume, and we entered the theater to catch the talk from the back row. Both John and Matthew had fascinating things to say, some of which I'd heard before and much of which was new to me. The questions from the audience were excellent as well.

Around 10:00pm the talk wrapped up. R2 was still in the lobby, and there were a few more pictures once everyone exited.

I had a great time, and everyone appreciate having the droids as special guests.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Return to JPL

Today R2 and I joined fellow R2 Builders Keri Bean, Kevin Holme and Bryan Reniker for a fun day of discovery at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, CA.

Keri works at JPL, and she kindly offered to take us on a tour of the facilities. R2 and I have been here once before, but it was a long time ago and I was looking forward to seeing it again.

We started off in a room that exhibits replicas of various spacecraft and rovers, along with some actual artifacts.

It was all very cool, although the infrared camera proved there was warmth as well.

Next, we went to the Mission Control room. I'd seen this room many times, during the exciting webcasts when the various Mars rovers have come in for a landing.

There was a cool LED array that modeled live communications between various spacecraft and the ground via the Deep Space Network. The LEDs lit up as communications arrived. Some spacecraft were more verbose than others.

We then went to a high bay test bed, where an engineering model of a Mars Exploration Rover was situated in some gravel, as was a model of Mars InSight, a mission scheduled for 2018.

One of our last stops was a high bay clean room, where the Mars 2020 mission is just starting assembly. Mars 2020 is scheduled to be the next rover on Mars, and is planned to collect Martian samples for potential return to Earth in a future mission. A few years from now I'll look back at Mars 2020 and remember seeing it in its beginning stages.

Once our tour wrapped up, it was time to unload R2 and have some fun with the JPL staff! Employees heading home for the day were pleasantly surprised to find R2 in the courtyard to greet them.

And that's a wrap! Thank you again to Keri for taking the time to give us a great tour, I hope we get to return again sometime. JPL is a great place to visit, and it's always interesting to see what's next.