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February 2017

February 28th, 2017
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Titan Saturn Mission Artwork, 1976
Photograph Number P-16926

In the 1970s and 80s, before advanced computer graphics, artist Ken Hodges was hired by JPL to create paintings that depicted many different missions – some in the planning stages and some only imagined.  Bruce Murray became JPL’s Director in 1976, and he advocated new missions (Purple Pigeons) that would have enough pizzazz to attract public and scientific support.  Hodges painted many of the Purple Pigeon images, including this scene of a Saturn orbiter with a lander going to the surface of Saturn’s largest moon Titan.  This artwork was done almost 30 years before Cassini’s Huygens Probe reached the surface of Titan.  Cassini was launched in 1997 and spent seven years traveling to Saturn. The probe was released in December 2004, and landed on Titan on January 14, 2005.

For more information about the history of JPL, contact the JPL Archives for assistance. [Archival and other sources: P-numbered photo albums and indexes, Cassini and Huygens web pages.]

January 2017

January 31st, 2017
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Ten-Foot Space Simulator Thermal Testing
Photograph Number JPL-10479Bc

In early 1989, a series of thermal tests were conducted on the Microwave Limb Sounder (MLS) Instrument, which was part of the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS).  The MLS System Thermal Vacuum (STV) test program was designed to evaluate its thermal integrity and functions in a simulated space environment.  It included a 24-hour bakeout, six phases of thermal balance tests, and a thermal cycling test of the instrument in flight configuration, using a variety of heaters and lamps.

This photo shows the Ten-Foot Space Simulator located in Building 248, with a quartz lamp array approximately seven feet tall.  This array faced the primary reflector during testing and helped to heat the chamber to 80°C (176°F).  The vacuum chamber shroud was lowered over the test fixture, and the chamber walls and floor were maintained at -100°C to -179°C during testing.

For more information about the history of JPL, contact the JPL Archives for assistance. [Archival and other sources: UARS MLS Environmental Requirements System Thermal/Vacuum Test Report, D-6314, July 1989; JPL-prefix photo albums and index.]

December 2016

December 30th, 2016
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Microwave Limb Sounder
Photograph number JPL-6194Bc

In 1988, the Microwave Limb Sounder (MLS) instrument was under development at JPL.  It was launched in 1991 on the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS), along with 9 other instruments.  They were designed to study the ozone layer, chemical compounds in the atmosphere, wind, temperature, and energy input from the sun, to help define the role of the upper atmosphere in climate variability.  UARS, part of NASA’s Earth Observing System (EOS), was transported to orbit by space shuttle Discovery (STS-48).  The satellite was 35 feet long, 15 feet in diameter, weighed 13,000 pounds, and orbited Earth at an altitude of 375 miles.  Data from MLS was transmitted at the rate of 1250 bits per second.

In this photo, the primary reflector of MLS was mounted on a Numerex coordinate measuring machine.  The touch-probe measured the precise geometry of the reflector at preset points, and data collection software allowed engineers and technicians to confirm that the part was within the specified tolerance.  (The man at the controls is unidentified.)

For more information about the history of JPL, contact the JPL Archives for assistance. [Archival and other sources: JPL photo index, the UARS web site, and various equipment auction/sales web sites.

November 2016

November 30th, 2016
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JPL’s First Digital Computer
Photograph number 371-907A

In January 1953, JPL was in the market for its first digital computer.  After investigating the possibilities, a site visit was made to Consolidated Engineering Corporation (CEC) in Pasadena and the CEC Model 30-203 digital computer, shown in this photo, was eventually selected.  The prototype at CEC was given the project number 36-101.  JPL and the National Bureau of Standards were the first two customers to order the computer – the one ordered by JPL was 36-102, and the one for NBS was 36-103.  JPL’s computer was finally delivered and operational in July 1954.  It cost approximately $135,000 (more than $1 million in 2016 dollars).  That did not include the operator’s console, paper tape input and output, punch card unit, or other related equipment.  It featured magnetic drum storage of about 4000 words (a “word” being a number or command) and a word length of 10 decimal digits.  It contained more than 1,500 vacuum tubes.

For more information about the history of JPL, contact the JPL Archives for assistance. [Archival and other sources:  Section 371 photo albums, Combined Bimonthly Summary No. 33, Datatron Chronology.)