#Orion at JPL/Armstrong (Part 4)

If you want to start with Part 1 of this series, click HERE.

This week, we have a series of Fast Facts about the Space Flight Operations Facility (SFOF) located in Building 230 of the NASA JPL campus. As a part of the recent #Orion NASA Social at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (jointly sponsored with the good folks from NASA Armstrong), Doug was able to take a tour of the SFOF. This was Doug’s second SFOF visit in two months (HERE is the previous recent trip). The guide for the most recent tour was Jim McClure, NASA-JPL Space Flight Operations Facility Manager. Here are some of the things that McClure shared with us.

FACT 1: JPL is a direct consequence of President Kennedy’s moon speech to Congress.

DSN Mission Control
DSN Mission Control

On May 25, 1961, speaking before Congress, President Kennedy made the first of his famous speeches that laid out his goal of putting an American astronaut on the moon before the end of the decade. As our tour of the SFOF began, Jim McClure told the assembled NASA Social attendees that Building 203 was built as a direct outcome

Construction of Building 203 and the SFOF began in July 1961, and it was completed in October 1963. The fiftieth anniversary of its dedication was celebrated on May 14th of this past year.

The SFOF played a significant role in the Apollo program by controlling Surveyor program, a sequence of seven proof-of-concept missions meant to test methods of lunar landing.

Additionally, Building 203 was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1985. The structure is also a part of the National Register of Historic Places.

FACT 2: JPL has been continuously operating for 50 years.

One of the primary functions of the SFOF is serving as an operation control center for the Deep Space Network (DSN). The DSN is a communications network for controlling the behaviors of and collecting data from spacecraft. The most recognizable features of the DSN are the enormous antennas (or antennae) that operate at the three locations of the DSN: Canberra, Australia; Madrid, Spain; and Goldstone, California, USA. The antennas of the DSN range in size from 34 to 70 meters in diameter (roughly 100 to 200 feet).

A fantastic visualization of the DSN communications operations can be found HERE. Engineers have been operating the DSN from the SFOF continuously—24/7—for more than fifty years.

DSN-DougCurrently, the engineers of the SFOF are controlling and/or receiving data from twenty-two NASA space missions and the spacecraft of a number of other nations operating beyond-the-moon exploratory missions. Doug Ellison, seen in the picture of one of the DSN antennas, provided the following list of missions—22 missions, 27 spacecraft—that are being controlled from the SFOF.








Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

Mars Odyssey


Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity


Mars Science Laboratory-Curiosity

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

New Horizons

SOHO (a joint European Space Agency (ESA)/NASA solar observatory)


Spitzer IR Telescope

THEMIS A, B, C, D, and E

Voyager 1

Voyager 2


And there’s more, with missions of Japan, Europe, and India:

Cluster 1, 2, 3, and 4 (an ESA heliophysics mission)

Hayabusa 2 (a Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) asteroid mission)

Mars Orbiter Mission (an Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Mars mission)

Mars Express (an ESA lead mission)

Akatsuki (a JAXA Venus mission)

Rosetta (an ESA cometary exploration mission)

Venus Express (an ESA Venus mission that was shutdown earlier this week)

That’s a total of thirty-seven spacecraft currently communicating with the DSN!

FACT 3: JPL is the Center of the Universe.

JPLplaqueMcClure related that Charles Elachi, Director of JPL, has long been fond of standing in the middle of the control room, pointing to a spot on the floor, and proclaiming that this is the Center of the Universe. Eventually, McClure decided that there ought to be something official that Elachi could point to that indicated that this was the Center of the Universe. So, McClure had a memorial plaque embedded in the floor.

Doug thoroughly enjoyed his most recent visit to JPL’s SFOF, but it was just one of the fantastic moments of the recent #Orion NASA Social. We may have a few more things to see about this recent adventure. We’d like to say a heartfelt Thank You to NASA’s Stephanie Smith (@stephist) and Doug Ellison (@doug_ellison) for their help with this week’s post.

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