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JPL's Latest Space Probe Goes to Colorado Blvd.

January 01, 2005|Nita Lelyveld and Susana Enriquez | Times Staff Writers

This time last year, the director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory sat at home watching the Rose Parade on television.

Out in the solar system, the Spirit rover was nearing Mars. Cozy in his living room, Charles Elachi daydreamed.

"I thought, 'If we are successful, it would be great to have a float in the parade,' " he recalled recently.

The mission was a success, and there will be a float.

A JPL-designed creation has landed on the streets of Pasadena -- a 50-foot, robot-like figure, in a takeoff posture, skates atop a model of the solar system, periodically firing carbon dioxide rockets from a pack on its broad back.

The giant's body is made up of models of 10 different JPL spacecraft, starting with its rover feet -- Spirit on the right, Opportunity on the left.

JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech, has 16 spacecraft currently collecting data from the cosmos, and its float celebrates all of them.

"For us, it's a golden age of deep space exploration," Elachi said.

For parade-goers, rain should not be a problem, according to the National Weather Service. As of late Friday, a 20% chance of rain was forecast for Pasadena, with today's temperatures ranging from the high 30s to the lower 60s.

But the latest storms were enough to leave nearly 14,000 parking spaces at the Brookside Golf Course either soggy or underwater and unusable. Rose Bowl officials on Friday called for drivers to take public transportation to the game.

From 6 a.m. until 3 p.m., Gold Line trains will run every 8 minutes. From 3 p.m. until 8 p.m. they will run every 10 minutes.

Among the options: The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said the Gold Line was prepared to take more than 30,000 additional riders to the Memorial Park station, where people going to the game can walk three blocks to the Parsons Engineering complex at Walnut Street and Fair Oaks Avenue for a free shuttle to the Rose Bowl. There are 2,000 parking spaces at Union Station downtown.

Fans can also take a $10 shuttle from the Staples Center, although only 2,500 spots are available.

"It's going to be a beautiful day," said Darryl Dunn, general manager of the Rose Bowl Operating Co. "People just need to leave earlier, and recognize there is a situation."

"We're hoping all the weather forecasters are correct" and it won't rain, said Bill Flinn, chief operating officer of the Tournament of Roses. "People are going to be wondering how we are able to control this."

"But in perspective of all the things going on today, a little rain on our parade is OK," he added.

The worst weather should be over by parade time, but the rain was enough to quell the traditional throngs of campers who gather on Colorado Boulevard the day before the parade. By Friday afternoon, there was still plenty of sidewalk space along the parade route, with only a few hundred early arrivals staking spots.

Jay and Jeanne Ganske kept up a family tradition, driving from their Leona Valley home and arriving in Pasadena at 11 a.m. with their two teenagers, who were joined by five friends. They were pleased to find a place in front of Macy's despite their midday arrival. "We knew with the rain we'd have better luck finding a spot," Jeanne said.

It was the family's fourth trip to the parade, and they were prepared for all weather conditions, with plenty of blue tarps, umbrellas and ponchos. Along with an inflatable couch, they also packed a board game to make light of their chance of getting drenched. "We brought the 'Survivor' game so if it rains we'll pretend we're surviving," Jeanne said.

In some ways, camping out is the family's favorite part of the ritual. They especially enjoy what has become another tradition: the late-night food fight that typically gets going near midnight. For this, the Ganskes packed 10 bags of marshmallows and two bags of tortillas for flinging the night away. "We don't care for the parade, we come for the marshmallow fight," Jeanne said.

The Rose Parade is not exactly unexplored territory for JPL.

But the last time JPL had a float in the parade was 1963, to toast the Mariner 2, which had flown past Venus the month before. It was the first spacecraft to get close enough to study another planet.

Times were different back then, when then-JPL Director William Pickering served as the parade's grand marshal.

The Mariner 2-themed float, meant to depict the spacecraft alongside Venus, wasn't exactly high-tech. A plump orb decorated with orange and yellow flowers and bearing the words "Venus to Pasadena" sat atop a small trailer. A model of the Mariner 2, looking like a prop straight out of an early "Star Trek" episode, jutted from the back of the orb.

Family is the theme of the 2005 Rose Parade. JPL director Elachi wanted the lab's float to describe the whole family of spacecraft, not just its famous Mars rovers, whose explorations have so captivated the public.

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