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Galaxy displayed in the foothills

June 09, 2006|By Fred Ortega

It's hard to believe that one can have an out-of-this-world experience in suburban La Cañada Flintridge. But that is exactly what happened to the thousands of people who attended this weekend's open house event at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The free event, which featured 26 exhibits ranging from video presentations, visits to mission control and interactive exhibits of past, current and future space missions hosted by the scientists themselves, drew about 14,500 space fans on Saturday and about 10,000 on Sunday, said Kimberly Lievense, JPL's manager of public services.

"It has been a continuous flow," Lievense said, as crowds streamed through the entry gates behind her into the laboratory's foothill campus. "It is our one opportunity of the year to allow the public to come and see what we are doing, the missions that JPL works on."

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Since the event is free except for food, beverages and merchandise such as JPL T-shirts and caps that was on sale at various booths, the open house event is dependent on the laboratory's budget, Lievense said.

"We weren't open on Sept. 11, and there have been years when we didn't have the funding," she said, adding that all the exhibits are manned by laboratory employees on a volunteer basis.

Among several children's activities booths at the open house was the "Fly Through Space" exhibit, in which kids could stand in front of a green background and watch their likenesses superimposed on various outer space and otherworldly landscapes on video screens mounted around the room. Young Jordan Rodgriguez, 10, of West Covina sat transfixed watching an image of herself standing on the rust-colored plains of Mars while her mother, Marlene Rodriguez, enjoyed the spectacle.

"I think it is a really interesting event, and it is nice that they allow people to come for free," said Marlene Rodriguez. "She really likes the kids stuff, where they can actually interact with the exhibits."

Asked about her virtual trip to another planet, Jordan Rodgrizuez said, "It was fun. It would be fun to be an astronaut, because you could float around all over the place."

Another budding astronaut, 9-year-old Dan Hernandez of Rosemead, sat in front of a computer screen in the laboratory's museum, reading the specifications of various JPL-built satellites as a full-size model of the laboratory's famed Galilleo Jupiter probe hung in the background.

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