Did you know that you can visit Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory? Taking a free JPL Tour is a great experience that is open to anyone who registers for tickets. Tickets do fill up quickly though so you do have to be on the website when they go live at 9 am. The tour page of the JPL website will always say when the next date to request tickets is. Tickets are released roughly two months in advance so the next ticket release in December will be for tours in February.
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My family is extra interested in space-related experiences as my Grandpa worked on the apollos and shuttles. I went to Space Camp with my Grandpa as a child which was so much fun. While Houston and Cape Canaveral may have the big Space Centers where the launches take place, Southern California has a lot to offer those who want a behind-the-scenes look at the robotics side of NASA.
The tour will take around 2.5 hours and does involve walking up and down several stairs. While this is a family-friendly tour I would say it isn’t as exciting for children as it is for adults. There is a lot of cool stuff to see but nothing is hands-on or interactive. On my tour, there were a few families and the tour guides do their best to make it engaging and exciting for the children. I think overall they will like the experience but might be a little bored at times while I think adults will have the most appreciation for everything.
When you arrived for the free JPL tour you will be guided to the visitor parking lot. The security guards will most likely tell you to go inside the visitor’s center to check-in. I did and was then directed outside near the flagpole to wait for the tour guide. At check-in, you are given a JPL tour lanyard to wear which you are able to keep as a souvenir at the end of your tour. They do not have a gift shop on site, there is an online store you can visit, but they also give a few freebies to you at the end of your experience.
If you want to wear NASA gear, Amazon has some pretty fun choices.
The tour kicks off with a video that showcases what Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is currently working on. Our tour guide also took this time to explain what JPL is, how it is connected to NASA, and what they focus on. While Houston and Cape Canaveral work with astronauts, at JPL they work with robotics and focus on getting data from locations that humans cannot visit. There is a small exhibit that you will get to see after that has some cool displays to see. In the first part of the tour, you are primarily seeing models and replicas of the real creations as most of the robotics stay in space and never return to earth.
For our next stop, we headed over to look into one of the clean rooms where they are currently working on a project that will go to Jupiter. This was so cool to see a team making progress on putting together an incredible creation.
We then headed over to Mission Control. Depending on what is happening in Mission Control you may or may not get to walk down on the floor after you get a birds-eye view of the room. This building was one of my favorite places we went to. When you enter the ceiling is made to look like the night sky with stars, and you’ll even see a few shooting stars.
Upstairs you get to see Mission Control which is really exciting. We were lucky that since there wasn’t much happening at the moment in Mission Control we were able to go below and walk through the area. We made a brief stop on our way back to the entrance to see one last display. Throughout the tour, we only went to 4 locations but the amount of information they cover is incredible. The free JPL tour is truly one of the best free experiences I think you can have in LA. It is a unique thing to do in LA that is something I highly recommend checking out.
You can request free JPL tour tickets here.
If you want to visit more places that have a Space connection I have a few other recommendations. You can see the Endeavour on display at the California Science Center which is also free to visit. In Downey, you can explore the Columbia Memorial Space Center which is dedicated to bringing the wonder of Space to children. There is a sweet tribute to the crews of both the Challenger and Columbia at the Valhalla Memorial Park cemetery. There is also a tribute to astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka in Little Tokyo.
If you would like to do something else while you are in the area, Descanso Gardens is a wonderful place to explore.