Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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The Jet Propulsion Laboratory is a division of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and is a subsidiary agency of NASA (United States). Though its name suggests an association with air-breathing reaction engines, the primary focus of JPL's research has always been rocket engines. Today it is the primary control authority for all robotic rocket probes launched under the authority of NASA.


In 1936, a team of dedicated researchers conducted their first rocket experiments in a remote part of southern California. After several failures, they succeeded in building a rocket motor that would not explode when fired.[1] Professor Theodore von Karman of Caltech secured space for the team on the Caltech campus, but eventually their experiments proved too hazardous to conduct on campus. They then built their first facilities in 1940 at their present location near Pasadena, California. Professor von Karman became the first director of the facility, to which he gave the name Jet Propulsion Laboratory in November 1943.[1]

The initial funding for JPL came from the United States Army Air Forces. The Army at first asked JPL to develop an engine that could help a heavily loaded aircraft take off in a shorter distance. These jet assisted take off (JATO) engines were the first practical application of rockets by the United States military.

In 1944, JPL, at the request of the Army, developed a new kind of rocket—the guided missile, a rocket with its own guidance system to steer it to its target. JPL did develop such a missile, the WAC Corporal. JPL later developed a solid-fuel version, the Sergeant.

In 1957, JPL changed its focus from the development of rockets to the development of artificial satellites and other such payloads. The first artificial satellite that the United States placed in orbit was Explorer 1, on January 31, 1958. The "space race" between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics dates from this launch.

With the formation of NASA, the then director of JPL convinced the President to transfer JPL's affiliation from the Army to NASA. This was done, and that affiliation continues to this day.[1][2]

Primary function

JPL is both a research and development agency and a control authority. Beginning with Project Pioneer, JPL has developed or helped developed virtually every rocket probe that the United States has launched into space.[3] JPL also contributed to the early reconnaissance of the Moon prior to the Project Apollo series of missions, with Project Ranger and Project Surveyor.[4][5]

Administrative declaration

JPL is a rich source of high-quality images of space and especially of various solar system bodies. JPL is a part of NASA and therefore is an agency of the United States government. Hence all images specifically credited to JPL are in the public domain, as per the Copyright Act of 1977.

JPL also occasionally hosts other images credited to other individuals and agencies. In general anyone may use such images for any educational or other non-commercial purpose without seeking additional permission. For details, please read the JPL Image Use Policy Declaration.

The logo of JPL may not be used to promote any agency or project other than JPL or one of its partner agencies. The use of the JPL logo in an article to describe the history, function, achievements, and available resources of JPL probably is allowed under the principle of fair use. The administration of Conservapedia has decided, for the moment, not to import the JPL logo even to illustrate this article. Under no circumstances will the administration allow such importation by any upload-privileged user, without first requesting written permission from the appropriate official at JPL.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Conway, Erik. "JPL - Early History." JPL, NASA, n.d. Accessed July 4, 2008.
  2. Dick, Steven J. "Jet Propulsion Laboratory History." NASA, n.d. Accessed July 4, 2008.
  3. Conway, Erik. "JPL - First Space Missions." Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA, n.d. Accessed July 4, 2008.
  4. Conway, Erik. "JPL and Apollo Program." Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA, n.d. Accessed July 4, 2008.
  5. The most famous of these missions was Surveyor 3, which made a safe landing in the Moon's Ocean of Storms. The crew of Apollo 12 made their own landing near the Surveyor 3 landing site. They took Surveyor 3 apart and returned several of its parts to Earth.

Related links

See also