A towering 50-foot robot from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) will thrill throngs of parade-goers lining the streets of Pasadena, Calif., New Year's Day.
Resembling a giant transformer toy, the massive float, entitled "Family of Explorers," honors nine Earth and space exploration missions managed by JPL for NASA. The robot's arms and legs are adorned with models of each mission.
The missions include — the Cassini probe to Saturn; Stardust comet sample return mission; Jason oceanography satellite; Genesis solar wind sample return mission; Galaxy Evolution Explorer ultraviolet space telescope; Spitzer Space Telescope; Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment to measure Earth's gravitational field; and the venerable twin Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity.
The Mars rovers form the robot's "skates" as it rolls down Orange Grove Avenue, Colorado and Sierra Madre Boulevards. The robot will wow the crowds with special effects ranging from smoke from the robot's "rockets" to strobe lights and animation. A remote control Web camera inside the robot's head will provide an unprecedented view of the parade route.
"This has been an extraordinary year for us, a great year of exploration and discovery," said JPL Director Dr. Charles Elachi. "Our intent is to culminate this year and start the next year with another amazing event. We at JPL pride ourselves on being one big family, so what better way to celebrate our recent successes than with this Rose Parade float, highlighting to millions of people around the world our achievements in exploration on behalf of people everywhere," he said.
The JPL and Caltech float is their first for the Tournament of Roses Parade. The float was designed and built by Pasadena-based Phoenix Decorating Company and its award-winning designer, Raul Rodriguez. A joint JPL/Caltech float committee solicited design concepts from the JPL community earlier this year and then worked with the builder to select the final concept. Construction began in June. Caltech is funding the float.
Hundreds of volunteers from JPL, Caltech, their families and friends, and some local high school clubs are decorating the float. It is covered from head to toe with flowers, seeds and other natural materials. Decoration takes place at Rosemont Pavilion, next to the Rose Bowl. Today and tomorrow crews are working from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. (PST), and on December 31, as late as needed, to complete the float. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.