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This IS Rocket Science

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Each year, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena opens its doors to the community for a two-day open house. Prior to this year, I had never heard of the event. On a recent Sunday morning, a scientist friend whisked me off to JPL at the last moment. Armed solely with my RAZR phone camera, I tried to capture the sights as best I could.

The JPL website described the open house as:

This popular event will celebrate JPL's accomplishments with exhibits and demonstrations about the Laboratory's ongoing research and space exploration. Many of the Lab's scientists and engineers will be on hand to answer questions about how spacecraft are sent to other planets, how scientists utilize space technologies to explore Earth and how researchers are now searching for planets beyond the solar system. Visitors will see exhibits, displays, demonstrations and presentations about new technologies, solar system exploration, spacecraft communication and much more.
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They weren't kidding. The exhibits included science experiments, robot prototypes, 3-D images and even Wil Wheaton. More photos after the jump.

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We spent most of our day exploring the Mars exhibit, for which there was a 1-2 hour line to get inside the building. It was well worth it.

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The JPL people made even our time in line interesting, as the waiting area included mini Mars rovers and orbiters. One working rover captured our attention as we watched its painfully slow journey over fake rocks and other debris. The scientist we spoke with said that the rover runs on the equivalent of a 100-watt light bulb (which I suppose would be 100 watts).

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The inside of the building included the hands-on "Mars Rover Experience for Kids" illustrated in the first photo on this page, along with a number of robot prototypes such as the ones above. They scaled walls, rappelled and pretty much conquered anything the fake Mars surface threw at them.

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Some displays included beautiful high-resolution images of the surface of Mars, in addition to a number of 3-D surface and landscape photos (everyone was given a pair of 3-D glasses upon entrance to the event). Most of the surface images resembled either an art piece or something one might see when looking through a microscope.

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Amidst the crush of the crowd, Wil Wheaton was on hand and appeared to be taping some sort of science special.

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If you would like to attend next year's JPL Open House (which I'm guessing will take place in May 2008), keep checking the JPL website. And while you're there, I'd also recommend downloading some of JPL's brilliant computer wallpaper.

All photos taken with Michele Reverte's RAZR phone, which held the images hostage for a number of weeks.