Afternoon Delight: A visit to JPL’s ‘clean room’

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Southern California has quite a history in space flight. Much of it involves building the spacecraft that put astronauts into orbit.

What you may not know, however, is that in order to get to the place where the spacecraft are built, you first have to suit up yourself. And the place where you do it is called a ‘clean room’.

KCRW’s Saul Gonzalez visited the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada-Flintridge, where he scoured for some details. He spoke to Steve Chiotakis about his visit.

JPL’s Spacecraft Assembly Facility, or SAF, was constructed in 1961 and has been the place where over the decades probes to the Moon, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune have been put together.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (left) gets a tour of satellites now being assembled in the SAF. Three will be launched next year to study Earth’s climate and the build up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
On the walls of the SAF are emblems of successful missions assembled in the room. They date back to the days of the Ranger and Mariner probes.
The SAF has a Class 10,000 cleanliness rating. That means there are fewer than 10,000 particles of dust of 0.5 micron or larger in size per cubic foot of air volume.
Although smocks, rubber gloves and head gear are required clothes in the SAF now, in the 1960s, JPL engineers and scientists were allowed to wear street clothes in the room and even smoke near the spacecraft. Photos by Saul Gonzales.