NASA JPL Day: 7 things we loved from VR exoplanets to getting run over by a rover

PASADENA – NASA JPL opened up its doors for its annual day for visitors to explore Mission Control, get inspired by space exploration demos, talks and films, and get run over by a rover, at its Pasadena campus.

Here are our favorite digital and other things we saw roaming around the exhibits and buildings on the campus.

1 Visit Mission Control. Exploring the mission control room which monitors landings and planet flybys is a highlight of visiting NASA JPL. There are video screens in a semicircle, much like the mission control rooms you see in space movies. A short <2 minute video plays to describe the functions of the room, and several NASA employees were on hand to answer quick questions or take selfies.


2. Explore Exoplanets in VR. Put on VR viewers to explore new exoplanets Trappist-1e and Kepler-16b. Thanks to VR, you can experience what it could be like to be on another real planet, way cooler than just an artist drawing on a poster.

Wait, what’s an exoplanet? There are other planets? Update what you learned in grade school. First, there are eight planets in our solar system, not nine, because Pluto was officially downgraded in 2006 to a big icy rock. Second, dozens of new planets have been discovered beyond our solar system, called exoplanets. They names are identified by their galactic address, thanks to naming conventions by the International Astronomical Union, based in Europe, which names all new planets and their moons. New planets are named the telescope that discovered them, followed by the number of the sun in the galaxy, and then the planet number distance from the sun.

Trappist-1e. For example, planet Trappist-1e was discovered via the Trappist telescope, 1 is the first sun, e is the fifth planet from the sun. This fifth planet could be hospitable to life as we know it, so is getting some attention, and is the basis for the VR demo. It’s is a compact solar system with the seven planets orbiting near each other, so that you could easily see several of the other planets while standing on the surface of Trappist-1e. In the VR demo, you can look around and see the other planets hovering. It’s a 360 video where you look around from one spot, no moving around.

Put on the Kepler 16-b VR goggles to be transported to this planet with two suns, which is appropriately nicknamed Tatooine.

There are dozens of other exoplanets that have been discovered, including “rogue planets” that are just floating in space, not orbiting a sun.

3. Get Run Over by a Rover. Kids and adventurous adults lay down side by side on the ground to get run over by Sammy, a demo rover. The demo shows how a rover’s eight wheels can go over rocks and other rough terrain, by demoing traversing over backs and butts.

4. See the Pulse light sculpture. The Pulse light sculpture is made of chips and lights. It rains lights when data is being downloaded from satellites in real time, and shoots up lights when data from Earth is being transmitted to satellites. We would love a consumer-oriented light in our homes, which would similarly stream light up or down when we are uploading / downloading data on home wifi networks!

5. Watch space films. Several 20-minue films described various aspects of NASA JPL’s space exploration, from past to present and future missions. Fun to see NASA JPL’s diverse staff excitedly describe missions they are working on, with live satellite footage and computer animation simulations mixed in.

One of the films describes the Voyager expedition, in the same room where press conference took place decades ago. There is also a Voyager satellite replica, with a Golden Record which includes images and music from earth as a postcard to extraterrestrial beings who may discover it.

6. Talk to Rocket Scientists
. Fun to talk to rocket scientists and engineers excitedly describing their research at the demo tables and talks about everything from global warming scene from space, to Psyche the metal planet.

7. Free NASA apps. Several signs promoted NASA JPL’s apps. NASA has more than a dozen free desktop and mobile apps that let you explore the solar system, check what’s happening on satellites, see photos and videos from space, and effects of climate change. Several games like “NASA Be a Martian” and “Spacecraft 3D” get kids and adults interacting with fun or educational games. Visit the NASA JPL apps site to download them for free!

Apps aren’t all that was free. Thanks NASA JPL, for the free tote bags and maps given to all attendees (photo below).

There were several Instagram perfect photo opps, including getting run over by a rover, and a photo booth where you can take a pic of yourself floating in space, or standing next to a Mars rover on Mars.

Thanks to NASA JPL for organizing this event every year, inspiring kids and adults alike to appreciate the world we live in, in our little corner of the universe.

Augmented Reality. NASA uses AR for a variety of things ranging from sharing the discovery of exoplanets with the public, to even designing, building and operating spacecraft. For example, NASA JPL engineers showed how Protospace AR is used for teams to design spacecraft at a demo at the Vision Summit in Hollywood last month. In the photo below, you can see the three engineers standing on the stage. They are all wearing goggles to see a 3D computer animated model of a rover (inset right). This 3D representation lets them walk around the model, discuss changes, much faster than sending notes on images.

The Spacecraft 3D app also lets you get a look at NASA spacecraft via AR. Download for Apple or Android.