AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXXVIII , No. 1, Spring 2006


Technicians lowered the Explorer 1 satellite payload onto the launch vehicle's fourth stage motor. The photo was taken in the gantry at Launch Complex 26, Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, on January 20, 1958. Photo courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Click on photo to see a larger imag

Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) the Lead NASA Center for Robotic Exploration
by Margo E. Young

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development facility managed by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). JPL is justly famed as the lead NASA center for robotic exploration of the solar system, and its archives contain a wide range of materials useful to historians of the space sciences and allied fields.

JPL began as an off-shoot of Caltech's GALCIT (Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory) and did work for the Army, beginning with jet-assisted take-off rockets and moving on to aerodynamics and propellant chemistry, resulting in the Corporal missile. JPL built and operated Explorer 1, the first satellite launched by the United States. JPL designed and built the satellite in less than three months. The primary science instrument on Explorer 1 was a cosmic ray detector, which led to
the discovery of the Van Allen Belts.

Shortly after NASA was created in 1958, JPL was transferred to the new agency. JPLwas involved in lunar explorationalmost immediately with the Ranger and Surveyor missions to the moon. Surveyor 3 carried an electromechanical scoop device with which scientists were able to dig four trenches by remote control, scoop up samples of lunar soil, perform eight static bearing tests by pressing the scoop against the lunar surface, and 14 impact tests. These tests confirmed (contrary to what some scientists had feared) that the lunar surface could support a landing craft and that astronauts would be able to walk on the Moon. The JPL Archives has a collection of project documents and images
from Surveyor.

America's first successful planetary mission, Mariner 1962 to Venus, was also a JPL mission. Later Mariners included Mariner Mars 1969 with two spacecraft (Mariner 6 and 7) designed to fly by Mars, analyze the atmosphere and surface with remote sensors, and take pictures of the equator and south pole of the planet. Archival collections include the Spacecraft Design Book and the Status Bulletins form the Mariner missions.

The JPL Archives has records from many other projects: Viking orbiters to Mars (1975); Voyager twin spacecraft (1977) visited Jupiter and Saturn while Voyager 2 went on to Uranus and Neptune; Magellan to Venus (1989); Galileo to Jupiter (1989); Ulysses (1999) to study the sun's poles, and Mars Pathfinder (1997) whose rover, Sojourner, explored Mars for almost 3 months. The JPL Archives also has project collections for some of JPL's failed missions: Mars Observer (lost in 1993) and Mars Climate
Orbiter (1999).

In addition to collections of project documents, the JPL Archives has collections relating to the administrative history of JPL, extensive image collections, and over 100 oral histories. Cargill Hall, JPL's first historian, began the History Collection now in the Archives.Within this collection are materials on Army Ordnance projects such as Corporal and Sergeant; NASA flight projects, including Ranger, Surveyor, and Mariner; other JPL activities; and material generated by organizations other than JPL but relevant to JPL's activities.

The JPL Archives was established by Michael Q. Hooks in 1989 with the mission of documenting the history of the Laboratory's flight projects, research and development activities, and administrative operations. The primary holdings are listed on the

BEACON Archives Web site at The Web site also features the Archives' Historical Photo of the Month, from which the image accompanying this article was selected.

In the past two years, the JPL Archives has been revamping its approach to processing in order to make more of its materials accessible. High priority accessions are listed in the online, publicly accessible catalog and include contents lists asprovided by the donor. Catalyzed by the Greene and Meissner article in American Archivist in 2005, our processing approach will continue to evolve.

For more information, contact Margo E. Young, NASA,

e-mail: .


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