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Jet Propulsion Laboratory cancels open house, citing budget cuts

April 20, 2013|By Tiffany Kelly and Jason Wells
  • Visitors crowd the campus of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the facility's 2012 open house.
Visitors crowd the campus of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the facility's… (Raul Roa / Los Angeles Times )

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced this week that it has canceled its popular annual open house at its La Cañada Flintridge facility because of federal spending cuts.

The event, scheduled for June 8 and 9, typically attracts crowds of more than 15,000 each day.

"Everyone here is just horribly disappointed," JPL spokeswoman Veronica McGregor said. "This is an event we look forward to each year and we know the public really looks forward to attending it."

JPL has been in the process of reviewing its public outreach efforts amid pressure from NASA to cut costs to cope with federal spending reductions.

Casey Dreier, advocacy and outreach specialist at the Planetary Society, the Pasadena-based space exploration advocacy group, told the Los Angeles Times he was "very disappointed" with the decision.

"It's one of the most productive and effective and inspiring things JPL does for the community," he said.

In a statement on Thursday, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) said the cancellation was the result of "extremely poor fiscal policy — sequestration -- and that it undermined one of NASA's most important earthly missions: education.

In the absence of avoiding sequestration completely, he said, "we should do everything possible to save efforts that are incredibly successful in inspiring a new generation of American scientists and pioneers, like NASA's outreach and education programs."

McGregor said she had no knowledge of other educational and outreach programs being cut. The facility's internship program, she said, "appears to be just fine."

Despite the suspension of the open house, McGregor said the agency was holding out hope that the event could be brought back later this year "after the budgetary dust settles."

Attendance has increased over the last few years, with public interest piqued by the Curiosity mission to Mars, which JPL manages.

"There is a tremendous interest from the public to visit JPL," McGregor said.

The La Cañada facility still offers two or three free public tours daily, but those tours, limited to about 80 visitors each, are often booked months in advance, McGregor said.

Despite the space agency's budget woes, JPL has no plans to begin charging a fee for the tours, she said.

"This is their center," she said. "There is no reason to charge the public for coming in."

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tiffany.kelly@latimes.com

jason.wells@latimes.com

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