Planetary Radio • Jul 27, 2022

New Jet Propulsion Lab Director Laurie Leshin

Please accept marketing-cookies to listen to this podcast.

Download MP3

On This Episode

Laurie leshin portrait

Laurie Leshin

Jet Propulsion Lab Director and Planetary Scientist

Casey dreier tps mars

Casey Dreier

Chief Advocate & Senior Space Policy Adviser for The Planetary Society

Betts bruce headshot 9980 print

Bruce Betts

Chief Scientist / LightSail Program Manager for The Planetary Society

Kaplan mat headshot 0114a print

Mat Kaplan

Planetary Radio Host and Producer for The Planetary Society

She is only the tenth director of JPL, and the first woman to hold the position. It’s a homecoming for Laurie Leshin who got her PhD at Caltech, the operator of JPL on behalf of NASA. Laurie talks about her priorities for the lab, and how excited she is about the missions already underway and those to come. Planetary Society chief advocate Casey Dreier analyzes Russia’s announcement that it will withdraw from the International Space Station. Casey also shares his love of “Contact.” The classic science fiction film based on Carl Sagan’s novel has just celebrated its 25th anniversary. Bruce Betts will join us for another tour of the night sky and more in What’s Up.

Laurie Leshin portrait
Laurie Leshin portrait Laurie Leshin is the Jet Propulsion Lab director and a planetary scientist.Image: Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Celebrating the landing of the Curiosity rover
Celebrating the landing of the Curiosity rover Laurie Leshin, second from left, celebrates the landing of NASA’s Curiosity rover with other members of the science teams at JPL. Leshin is a co-Investigator on two of the rover’s instruments, the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) tool and the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS). She previously served as a long-term planner on the mission.Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Jet Propulsion Laboratory Aerial view of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) located in the upper Arroyo Seco and San Gabriel Mountains foothills, of Pasadena and Altadena, Southern California.Image: NASA

Related Links

Trivia Contest

This Week’s Question:

Name all the locations at the Jet Propulsion Lab that are on the list of national historic landmarks.

This Week’s Prize:

A copy of “The Red Planet: A Natural History of Mars” by Simon Morden.

To submit your answer:

Complete the contest entry form at https://www.planetary.org/radiocontest or write to us at [email protected] no later than Wednesday, August 3 at 8am Pacific Time. Be sure to include your name and mailing address.

Last week's question:

What was the first published scientific work to include telescopic observations of the Moon? It included drawings.

Winner:

The winner will be revealed next week.

Question from the July 13, 2022 space trivia contest:

Generally speaking, what goal does the JWST heat shield share with the packaging of the now retired McDonalds McDLT hamburger?

Answer:

The retired McDLT burger from McDonalds came in a two-sided package that kept the warm hamburger patty isolated from the cold lettuce and tomato, something like the James Webb Space Telescope heat shield that is very hot on the side that always faces the Sun, and near absolute zero on the other.

Transcript

Mat Kaplan: Meet Laurie Leshin, the new director of JPL, this week on Planetary Radio. Welcome. I'm Mat Kaplan of The Planetary Society with more of the human adventure across our solar system and beyond. Laurie Leshin took over as leader of the Jet Propulsion Lab in May. She invited me to her office on the vast campus of the NASA center that is operated by her alma mater, Caltech. You'll hear our very enjoyable conversation in a few minutes. We've also got a great bonus to share. I'd invited our own Casey Dreier to tell us about his insightful and inspiring essay marking the 25th anniversary of the film Contact. We had that conversation, but only after Casey helped me explore the announcement by Russia that it will withdraw from the International Space Station after 2024. All that and a visit to Burger Heaven with Planetary Society chief scientist, Bruce Betts, in this week's What's Up. You've never seen Jupiter like this, not unless you've already caught the infrared images of our solar systems giant captured by the JWST. There it is in two different wavelengths at the top of the July 22 edition of The Downlink, The Planetary Society's free weekly newsletter. Below it is a real stunner. It's a full globe photo of Mars taken by the United Arab Emirates Hope spacecraft in February. Kudos to Jason Major for processing it from the UAE's data. We learned that NASA has decided to delay the launch of the VIPER Rover to the moon. VIPER, that's Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover. And the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars is expected to rise through that thin air once again in August. Engineers and scientists expect dust storms to subside by then, allowing the tiny whirly bird to fully charge its batteries. Also at planetary.org/downlink is an item about my upcoming retirement as host of this show, and a link to where we are inviting applications. Casey Dreier is The Planetary Society's chief advocate and senior space policy advisor. Casey, welcome back. My intent was that we would merely talk about this piece that you have written for The Planetary Society website, which I believe is one of the best and really most beautifully written pieces I have ever seen on our website. We will come back to that in moments. But it was only moments ago anyway that I learned about this news, which is bound to be big news about the ISS and Russia's involvement. You want to give us a quick recap?

Casey Dreier: Well, Borisov, the new head of Roscosmos, met with Putin and stated that the Roscosmos or Russia will intend to separate from the ISS partnership after 2024. This caused quite a bit of attention, and obviously I'd say honest confusion, particularly for people just following the news or watching space. And really, after looking at this closely, after parsing through the language, it's not that different than what has been said before by the previous head of Roscosmos, Rogozin, who was just recently demoted. And I think the best way to interpret these types of headlines and these types of statements is to look beyond the words to actions. As of yet, right, and I'll emphasize yet, we have not seen any concrete actions by Russia that shows immediate, or even near term desire to depart the ISS partnership.

Mat Kaplan: This was such an interesting story just the same. It's not surprising it's getting the attention that it is. Your conclusion, hopefully it turns out to be the case, is reassuring. There are some other interesting little pieces to this story. And a good part of my source for this is the New York Times piece, which I do recommend by our friend, Kenneth Chang, and another reporter who's name I forget, but he is the New York Times reporter from Russia. It's an excellent piece. They quote an analyst as saying that really, as we hear about Russia becoming more involved with China, Russia really doesn't have that much to offer to China in the establishment and maintenance of their space station. Is that what you've learned as well?

Casey Dreier: Yes, that seems to be the case. And not only do they not have much to offer, it's not even clear that they can access China Space Station based on the orbits that China placed its station into. One of the entire purposes and motivations behind the Chinese Space Program right now recall is, like most space programs, it's a symbolic statement of technological capability of organizational might, of resource capability. And it makes sense that China, I mean, once it was really closed off from US cooperation, it benefits from its own independence space program, right? It's not seeking partnerships beyond those that it can use as kind of a symbolic partnership, regional soft power demonstration, right? And that's what we're seeing it move forward, just like the ISS is as a function of US and Russian still cooperative soft power. You can't just jump from one space station partnership to the other. And there's a lot of complexity. And what I said to another reporter earlier today, particularly with Russia's situation is really limited in terms of the options they have in general, whether they want to do their own or partner with another station. The Nauka module, which just launched last year, was over a 20-year development process for Russia, and still had major, major glitches that really threatened the station when it was attached, right? You don't go down to the space station store and buy a module, right, and swipe a credit card. It takes-

Mat Kaplan: Not yet.

Casey Dreier: ... Not yet. It takes a lot of time, effort and money, none of which we've seen Roscosmos begin to apply to this program. Again, that's why I look past this. And the other key word here they say it's after 2024 that they intend to pull out. Well, there's a lot of years that technically fall after 2024. Right? That is a good statement too is that there may be some uncertainty in the ongoing partnership. They may wait until they have existing hardware flying separately. But again, nothing that we've seen yet indicate any immediate change in this relationship. And I also will emphasize, US and Russia just 10 days ago signed a partnership to launch each other's astronauts to the ISS. What does the actions say versus what the rhetoric says? I always say rhetoric is cheap, right? Rhetoric is free. People can spout words, like I do frequently ad nauseam. It doesn't cost you anything. Actions, how you spend money and resources, that tells you something. That's policy in action. We have not yet seen policy enacted from these statements.

Mat Kaplan: Stay tuned. Back to the original topic we had in mind, some words you spewed on July 21st, and spewed rather well, rather well. It's your article at Planetary.org, Faith, Doubt, and Contact. On its 25th anniversary, Contact remains as relevant and unique as ever. It is clear that this film has meant a lot to you for the last quarter century.

Casey Dreier: It really has. I mean, it was surprising to me that it's been that long since it came out. I think it's a very underrated film and deserves a higher place in whatever we consider a film can, and not just as a sci-fi film, but as just a beautiful piece of cinema. It takes such a thoughtful, respectful, caring approach to just a fundamental aspects of human existence, this word, numinous, that comes from Carl Sagan's book, that you just so rarely see in cinema to begin with. And then mixed with this very unique situation that came out of, which is Robert Zemeckis who directed, it was fresh off of winning a ton of Oscars and making a ton of money off of Forrest Gump. And could basically do whatever he wanted, and chose to do Contact. He could pull the resources, level of movie stardom in that film, that really, again, just has not been replicated effectively since. You could maybe argue Interstellar was about as close as we've come since that, but just doesn't have that kind of thoughtful panache that Contact does.

Mat Kaplan: Just to recap for anybody who has not seen it, well, first of all, watch it. Watch it as soon as you can. If you listen to this show, you are very likely to love this movie. It's the story that centers on one scientist, a study researcher who is lucky enough to be part of a team that makes first Contact. And it turns out that what is transmitted to us are instructions for making a vast machine, an extremely expensive and ambitious machine, and nobody knows what it will do once it's turned on. Then a little trip that she gets to take because of that machine, what's interesting to me is you open this piece by saying the most exciting moment in Contact isn't Ellie's trip through space time nor the ... Well, I don't want to give too much away, but you say something far too rare in cinema, a moment of discovery. And then you connect this with the thrill, the PB&J, as Bill says, the passion, beauty and joy, of science, which you apparently think this captured pretty well.

Casey Dreier: It did. And that moment when the signal is first detected, and how do they make the acquisition of knowledge thrilling, right? And that whole scene is just a masterclass in framing, editing, composition, but also just it captures that the promise of something new. The closest thing I could think of is when in a superhero movie, when our protagonist discovers their powers for the first time. But instead of an inward kind of ego-driven discovery, right, about what an individual can do, this is an outward fundamentally world changing discovery that re-characterizes a global understanding of its role in the cosmos. Those moments of discovery can be rare, but even the promise of something new is so transformative and hits a deep seated almost spiritual aspect of human existence. And this is what that movie just does so well, right? And it is exactly right, that joyousness, the thrill, the opening of boundaries that we didn't even know were there suddenly falling down. Carl Sagan actually published a series as a book, but it was based on a series of lectures called The Varieties of Scientific Experience, which is a play on The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James. And he kind of touches on these same themes, and those series of lectures are very much in my head watching and reading. I also reread the book Contact, which a lot of people, myself included, really enjoy it, and there's deeper levels of it than available in the movie. But that was a theme recurrent through my mind as I was revisiting Contact 25 years later. And I think that's the key to unlocking Sagan and Julian, who we should credit here as co-writing the original screenplay, and was a constant, not just muse, but co-writer and partner of Sagan throughout his years.

Mat Kaplan: Absolutely. And thank you, Ann, if you happen to hear this. Ann will be back with us not too long from now in about a month to help celebrate the 45th anniversary of the launch of the Voyager mission. I would compare this movie in interesting ways to the much more recently released Don't Look Up, because there is that wonderful moment at the beginning of that movie when a grad student realizes that she has discovered a new comet no one has ever seen before. And everyone, all of her colleagues celebrate with her and there's this wonderful elation. And then they plot the course of this comet and they realize we have a serious problem.

Casey Dreier: Let me say something about that, because that's a interesting comparison. And I enjoyed Voyager mission, but at it's core, it's a cynical movie, right?

Mat Kaplan: Oh, yes.

Casey Dreier: And what makes Contact so rare as a film, and this is, again, I think the core of understanding it too in terms of what I use is the term faith permeates this film, not in terms of just motivation of nearly every individual and organization is faith in some way, secular or divine. But there's also, and I think this quote you're going to have me read, this is the core of it too, is that it's an expression of Sagan's faith in humanity and our ability to rise up to meet a challenge. But also to say that there is maybe something out there, that we're not alone. And that not only are we not alone, there is almost like a family waiting to embrace us with open arms into this adulthood of civilizations. And that is a beautiful idea, that is, again, the definition of faith, right? The presence of something unsupported by evidence, but a deep-seeded conviction or understanding of something you want to be true.

Mat Kaplan: Well said. Don't Look Up cynical? My goodness. I'll have to reconsider the movie. No, let's close with this one paragraph. The whole piece is beautiful. We just won't take the time to read it. Go to planetary.org and read it for yourself. This fourth paragraph, do you have it in front of you?

Casey Dreier: I do.

Mat Kaplan: Go for it.

Casey Dreier: Contact the book is Sagan's personal act of devotion, a statement of his faith for the cosmos as of yet beyond our comprehension. His conviction is that seeking the numinous, the feeling of being in the presence of the divine is the common thread of human experience. His grand unified theory, uniting the sacred and the secular, hearing a voice from the sky, whether a mathematical message or as revelation, triggers the same emotional structures in our brains. And perhaps through this common experience, our species can find some sense of common purpose and elevated cause.

Mat Kaplan: Well done, Casey. Thank you so much. I look forward to talking again. Well, next week when you will welcome my recent guest, Lori Garver, to continue the discussion generated largely by her recent book, Escaping Gravity.

Casey Dreier: I'll be there for that.

Mat Kaplan: Casey Dreier, that's the senior space policy advisor for The Planetary Society, and our chief advocate and space policy edition, first Friday in August is when you can expect to hear that conversation with Lori Garver. There isn't much I need to say to introduce Laurie Leshin. We talk about the long road that led her to leadership of JPL in the great conversation you're about to hear. Laurie was first heard here 19 long years ago. Back then she was principal investigator for a proposed mission called Sample Collection for Investigation of Mars, or SCIM. We've got a link on this week's episode page at Planetary.org/radio, along with other great resources. SCIM was not chosen by NASA, but the agency seems to have recognized a great scientist and leader in Laurie. By the way, she'll mention a mission called SWOT, that's S-W-O-T, or Surface Water and Ocean Topography, an earth science spacecraft that is a collaboration between NASA and the French Space Agency, CNES. Laurie Leshin, thank you for welcoming us into your office. Welcome home.

Laurie Leshin: Thank you so much. I'm thrilled to be back in Southern California.

Mat Kaplan: We are happy to have you. Full disclosure, you are a former member of The Planetary Society Board of Directors. I think you are also on our advisory council. We're very proud to have you back as a neighbor, as I said. Bill Nye sends his regards and looks forward to saying hello.

Laurie Leshin: Oh, please say hello back to him for me. I miss him. I'm looking forward to seeing him.

Mat Kaplan: Your longtime colleague, Jim Green, was my guest last week on the show talking about-

Laurie Leshin: Oh, he's the best.

Mat Kaplan: ... a number of things, he sends his regards and high praise. He said he regrets that he won't be able to work for you or with you again in one of those positions, because he worked for you at Goddard.

Laurie Leshin: He did.

Mat Kaplan: I didn't know that.

Laurie Leshin: Yeah, he did. He worked for me at Goddard. When I went there in 2005, he was running our data systems. And just, you saw last week, I'm sure, he's an extraordinary communicator, and his enthusiasm for space science is really boundless. And so it's great to see him having had so much success running planetary science and then being the chief scientist of NASA. So proud of him.

Mat Kaplan: And he's staying busy. As I noted in my introduction, you are the first woman to lead the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. I hope that when the second person takes that chair over there behind us, that it won't even be necessary, it won't even occur to people to point out that it's a woman in the job. But for now, it's kind of a big deal.

Laurie Leshin: Yeah, thank you. I mean, it's a huge honor of course. It took 86 years, so yes, it's time. And not only am I the first woman, but my fabulous colleague up here, Leslie Livesay, who's one of our associate directors, was really the first woman in leadership in the senior leadership of JPL. And she's only been in her role a couple years, so it really is time. And it's wonderful to get to be a part of a change here.

Mat Kaplan: I mean, I guess I should say you're not the first woman to lead a NASA center.

Laurie Leshin: No.

Mat Kaplan: But JPL does have a different kind of status. Can you remind us of how JPL differs from the other centers?

Laurie Leshin: Sure. JPL is NASA's only federally funded research and development center, FFRDC, as we lovingly call it, which means that while we are in some ways very much like a NASA center, in other ways we're very much not. Our property, our buildings and such are NASA owned, but our employees are employees of Caltech who operates JPL for NASA. And that gives us a little bit of extra special ability to kind of have a little bit of independence, but also really be honest brokers between NASA and the broader space community, and do some things a little bit differently, which is always good, I think, within the agency.

Mat Kaplan: And in taking this job, didn't you also become a vice president down the block at Caltech?

Laurie Leshin: Yes. I am also a vice president of Caltech and also a professor at Caltech in my old department where I got my PhD. I'm a professor of geochemistry and planetary science now at Caltech, which is a thrill.

Mat Kaplan: If I have it right, you're only the 10th director in that 80 something years here at JPL.

Laurie Leshin: Yes, I think that's right.

Mat Kaplan: You're following these legendary-

Laurie Leshin: Giants.

Mat Kaplan: ... figures, Bruce Murray, Ed Stone. Do you ever think about that, I mean, occupying this office?

Laurie Leshin: All the time. Also, it turned out I happen to be living in Bruce Murray's old house at the moment.

Mat Kaplan: Oh, I know that house.

Laurie Leshin: Yes.

Mat Kaplan: That's a wonderful home.

Laurie Leshin: It's a wonderful house. Yes. Oh, I spoke to Ed Stone right before I started. I'm a huge longtime fan of his. Charles Elachi was one of my mentors and someone who I respect incredibly deeply. And Mike Watkins is a great person. And so look, I stand on the shoulders of giants here. I also stand on the shoulders of the women who came before me at JPL. I'm right now reading, and I would recommend to all of your listeners, if they haven't read Rise of the Rocket Girls, which is really the history of JPL as told through the stories of the women who worked here from the very beginning, like the hidden figures we had, women computers at JPL who were working right alongside the engineers building the first rockets here, and blowing lots of things up in this beautiful Arroyo back in the day, and I feel like I stand on their shoulders too.

Mat Kaplan: And I'll recommend a book, Lindy Elkins-Tanton's new book as well, A Portrait of the Young Scientist-

Laurie Leshin: A Portrait of the-

Mat Kaplan: ... How does it go? I'm trying to get it right too. A Portrait of the Scientist as a Young Woman.

Laurie Leshin: ... The scientist as a young woman. That's it. Yes, I'm in the middle of that one too. I'm the kind of person that has three books going at once.

Mat Kaplan: Excellent.

Laurie Leshin: And that is a good one. And Lindy's wonderful.

Mat Kaplan: Have you seen the great photo of you? It's 10 years old now.

Laurie Leshin: Oh no.

Mat Kaplan: No? It looks great. You and others celebrating when Curiosity made it safely down to the surface of Mars.

Laurie Leshin: That's one of my favorite pictures ever. That was taken about two minutes after we landed on Mars, which was 10 years ago, the night of August 5th here in California. August 5th is my birthday. And so it was on my birthday and it was just the best possible experience to see. We landed successfully. Those first blurry grainy images came down. I call them the pictures only a mother could love, because they were actually taken through the lens cap of the camera, right? They flew these transparent lens covers, rightfully because a lot of dust was kicked up, but they took a picture immediately. But sure enough, I'm looking at it and I'm like, "I can't see anything." And half the science team's like, "Oh no, there's Mount Sharp." I'm like, "You're crazy. That is not." But sure enough, the next day when we opened the lens coverage, there it was. And it was like 10:30 at night when we landed her on Mars. And you would think, as I tell this story a lot, you would think it's like, "Okay, great. Let's go out and celebrate." Well, no, you can't do that. You've got this, I say it's like having a new baby on Mars, right? You've got to make sure it's okay, that it's healthy, and that it can figure out its surroundings, and that it's going to survive the first night and all of that. We immediately ran across the street to the science op center and started working, and worked all night that night, and all night a lot of nights. It was a thrilling, thrilling time.

Mat Kaplan: I love to talk about what we were doing that night at The Planetary Society down the street Pasadena Convention Center.

Laurie Leshin: Manifest, right?

Mat Kaplan: You're right. We were celebrating for you. I mean, really jumping up and down. It was such a wonderful, wonderful conclusion, which to a mission that is continuing today.

Laurie Leshin: Still going strong, and still making amazing discoveries, still sampling the rocks and soil of Mars, and analyzing them and finding all kinds of fabulous new things. Curiosity is going strong. And Perseverance is right behind doing amazing work as well.

Mat Kaplan: Forgot to put on my Perseverance and Ingenuity tie today, but it's a warm day anyway. Aren't you still a co-investigator on two of the key miniaturized laboratories or experiments on Curiosity?

Laurie Leshin: I am. I'm a COI on the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer, which is on the end of the arm, which can give us sort of bulk chemistry of the rocks that we put our arm on. And then also on the SAM instrument, which is creatively stands for Sample Analysis at Mars. And that one is a one that's really close to my heart because, one, the experiments I did for my PhD thesis in a basement lab at Caltech were taking up pieces of meteorites and heating them up, and extracting water and other volatiles and analyzing them. And that's basically the same experiment that SAM does on Mars with rocks we've cored into, or we drilled into, or soil we've scooped. And so it was taking that same experiment to Mars. And we built that instrument in-house at Goddard when I was at Goddard in the mid-2000s, and it was great to be able to be a part of actually seeing that instrument come to life. We took my whole giant lab at Caltech basically, and miniaturized it down into something the size of a microwave oven. Incredible.

Mat Kaplan: I think of SAM as a real miracle-

Laurie Leshin: It is.

Mat Kaplan: ... of the sort that was included on the Viking Lander.

Laurie Leshin: That's exactly it.

Mat Kaplan: It was way ahead of its time.

Laurie Leshin: Exactly right.

Mat Kaplan: Also-

Laurie Leshin: We had to invent all kinds of crazy stuff, like little valves, little vacuum valves and all kinds of ... And it's still working 10 years later. And I can tell you from, again, having worked in the earth based equivalent of these labs, you're constantly tinkering with stuff and making it work right. And the fact that this thing is still going strong 10 years later is truly something.

Mat Kaplan: ... Absolutely. These that we've mentioned, these are just a handful of the engineering and science miracles people here at JPL and the other centers that you work with that they create on a regular basis. I mean, I'm awestruck. Every time I come here, I wonder if you have that same sense still once you're at the top of the pyramid.

Laurie Leshin: Absolutely. You have to deal with a lot of challenges when you're in a job like this. And for me, the thing that keeps you going through those challenges is the inspiration that I get from the science that we're doing every single day, but also the people who are doing that science who are so committed and dedicated. I talk a lot about how, and I can tell later if you want a story about when we were installing a camera on the Hubble Space Telescope, and how I saw people crying, right? It was this people think science is the passionless pursuit of knowledge, and it's nothing-

Mat Kaplan: So wrong.

Laurie Leshin: ... of the sort. So wrong. It's the passionate pursuit of knowledge. And we do that every single day here, not just on Mars, but around most planets in the solar system, across the universe, through fabulous telescopes like James Webb, and also looking back at our own planet earth to try and understand how it's changing and what the impact of that is on people's lives.

Mat Kaplan: I'm thinking about those previous directors that you mentioned, every one of them a scientist or an engineer, basically scientists and engineers-

Laurie Leshin: Scientists and engineers.

Mat Kaplan: ... who I know some of them told me that they wished they had time to do the kind of science they had done before they took on this job. You've got to be facing the same kind of conflict. Do you ever wish you could just disappear from this upper floor and head down into a lab?

Laurie Leshin: Well, I've only been here two months, so I don't have that wish yet. Before I came here, I was president of a wonderful place called Worcester Polytechnic Institute, WPI, in Worcester, Massachusetts, which is Robert Goddard's alma mater, by the way. In the history of rocketry, it features prominently. They didn't have a geology department or people doing space science. They had aeronautical engineering or space engineering, but they really didn't have people who do what I do. Whereas here at JPL and at Caltech, I have tons of scientific colleagues. It's actually probably I hope going to be easier for me to do a little bit of research while I'm here. I don't have hugely high expectations, but again, with the faculty appointment at Cal tech, I do hope to be sharing some students in postdocs with colleagues, and pursuing some science and maybe even jumping back into Curiosity and maybe even Perseverance. Who knows?

Mat Kaplan: Good luck with that.

Laurie Leshin: Thank you.

Mat Kaplan: What are your priorities? I mean, every new director brings their own approach to the job and that trickles down. I mean, what do you have in mind?

Laurie Leshin: Yeah. Well, it's a big agenda right now, and I'm still learning a lot. I will not claim to have all the information I need to answer that question really, really definitively, and I want to take the time to really understand the place. I mean, I knew the place well before I've worked with JPL for decades, but being here and really embedding in the culture and the organization is something that takes a little time. And I want to take the time to do that, and I want to hear from lots of our team. We're going to engage almost everybody on the lab, as many as we can in talking about our future. But as I look at the landscape, there's kind of four big things. One is about our missions, making sure that we are delivering on those missions. And people are probably aware we had a recent challenge with Psyche, admission to an asteroid, so we clearly have some work to do to make sure we're able to deliver. Some of that's COVID related, recovering from that. But probably there's some other things too that we need to learn from and change, so we're really committed to that. And making sure emissions like Europa Clipper and Mars Sample Return, and the upcoming science missions like SWOT, and Mars change, and others that are coming are successful. And we have astrophysics missions too. We're building the next chronograph on the Roman Space Telescope. Those are all really, really important and smaller missions as well. So making sure the missions are working, that's great. Then we need to be also looking beyond that and thinking about what does the future hold for JPL kind of beyond the current set of missions. And to do that, we need to be seeding technology for the future. We need to be understanding what capabilities we can barely glimpse right now that we need to develop. And so we are able to do a lot of that work here, and I want to make sure that we're really aligning our investments with where we think the science is going, and make sure we're really driving the state of the art always. And then the third one is about the broader sort of stem and space ecosystems. The space ecosystem specifically is really changing. It's changed a lot in the last decade, right? All these new entrants, all of this great launch capability that we didn't have 10 years ago, large and small, all of this new commercial activity. How does JPL continue to be essential in that ecosystem? How do we need to think differently about how we're partnering, who we're playing with and how? Right? And so that's number three. And then number four is really around our colleagues and culture here, making sure that people see JPL as a great place to work, that it's a place where everyone can thrive, where people from all backgrounds can do well and succeed, and really making sure we're embracing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, all of those things, and just making it a fantastic place to make your career. That's a shortlist, but ...

Mat Kaplan: It's an impressive list.

Laurie Leshin: We got a lot to do, and I'm excited to be diving into it.

Mat Kaplan: My conversation with new JPL director, Laurie Leshin, continues in half a minute.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: There's so much going on in the world of space science and exploration, and we are here to share it with you. Hi, I'm Sarah, digital community manager for The Planetary Society. Are you looking for a place to get more space, catch the latest space exploration news, pretty planetary pictures and Planetary Society publications on our social media channels. You can find The Planetary Society on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. Make sure you like and subscribe, so you never miss the next exciting update from the world of planetary science.

Mat Kaplan: There are probably people listening to us now who may not realize ... I mean, when they think of JPL, they see those huge successes lately. They see the movie The Martian. And by the way, there are people working for you who wonder when that beautiful building is going to be constructed on-campus.

Laurie Leshin: Oh yeah, it's nice, right? Yeah.

Mat Kaplan: Yeah. Great. But they may not be aware that there have been challenging times for JPL, times when the lab, there were even questions about its survival, at least in the form that it has now. My assumption is, my perception is the times are pretty good right now, but I guess that's also something that has to be in the back of your mind.

Laurie Leshin: Always. I mean, JPL provides a really essential capability for the nation, for NASA certainly, but for the nation. And part of my job is to make sure that we continue to do that. But we have faced challenges. I mean, look, one of my first deep interactions with JPL was I was standing out in front of the building we're sitting in right now live on CNN when Mars Polar Lander crashed. It was not a fun day. And it was an incredible learning experience for me as a very young scientist to be in that position, and it's when I got my first real exposure to speaking to lots and lots of media. And also my first real introduction to NASA and how it worked and how it responded when things went wrong, we do the same thing today. When something goes wrong, we learn from it, we incorporate those lessons and we move forward. And so I've been involved in that. Curiosity was incredible success, but what lots of people don't remember is Curiosity didn't make its original launch date. It had to slip a whole Mars launch cycle. It slipped over two years. Much better decision to hold off on launching and be really successful than to launch too soon and not. Again, back to the Psyche decision that we just had to make, same thing. We weren't quite ready. We couldn't quite say with confidence that mission success was assured. And so we raised our hand and said, "We're not going to get there. We want to understand why. Let's learn from this. Let's address the issues and let's get this science a little bit later, I hope." But hopefully just science delayed, not science denied.

Mat Kaplan: Absolutely. And good precedence for that.

Laurie Leshin: Yes, exactly.

Mat Kaplan: I mean, rising like a Phoenix from the ashes, right, speaking of Mars Polar Lander.

Laurie Leshin: Yeah. I mean, you could say the same about JWST, right? All the challenges that the web telescope faced. When you see those extraordinary jaw-dropping images, you kind of forget about that. Right? The important thing is that it worked and it worked perfectly, and it's going to be an extraordinary contributor to science for decades to come.

Mat Kaplan: You just barely touched on there about how things are changing in the space sector. Not just the many new launch choices that are available nowadays, and frequently much cheaper, but also sending stuff places. I mean, how companies are getting farther and farther out there. NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload program. Of course, just this morning, we learned about a company that has plans in the next few years, just put a lander on Mars as a commercial payload. Things are changing.

Laurie Leshin: Yeah, absolutely. And I think it's great. I mean, when I spent time at NASA more than a decade ago, my last job was at NASA headquarters working in the exploration program, which is the Future Human Spaceflight program. And one of the big things we did was we started the Commercial Crew Program, right? We selected SpaceX and Boeing to be able to provide these commercial services to get astronauts to and from the ISS. And it took a while, and it was fits and starts, and it was painful. But now SpaceX is doing it, Boeing is about to be doing it, and it's changing the landscape. And you know what that lets NASA do is focus on what's beyond. NASA shouldn't be doing the same things over and over, and certainly shouldn't be doing the things that the commercial sector can do well. Again, we're a long way from saying they can do it well and reliably. I mean, CLPS is a great idea, I strongly support it, has had zero landers actually go yet. So we got to get there, right? And so sometimes those things almost certainly aren't going to go as planned, but you got to stay the course and keep in it for the long haul. And JPL's job is not only to help those companies succeed, but then to be always looking to the horizon at what comes next.

Mat Kaplan: And I'll just note Lori Garver was on the show again a few weeks ago as well talking about her brand new book.

Laurie Leshin: Her new book. Yes. Escaping Gravity.

Mat Kaplan: Escaping gravity.

Laurie Leshin: Yes. Yeah. Visionary woman.

Mat Kaplan: This is such a busy place, a huge place. I'm looking out of your windows here at just a piece of this campus. The biggest projects always get the most attention. You've mentioned a few. But I wonder if you want to say something about some of the smaller, less splashy efforts, which there are so many of.

Laurie Leshin: Oh my gosh. Yeah. There's a lot going on. Well, first of all, there's a ton of just amazing research, and science happening, and people developing new capabilities. There's a whole team developing a life detection capability that you could send to a place like Europa or Enceladus. They were just up in Mono Lake a couple of weeks ago, testing it to great success, I think. I'm still waiting for all the data. But there's always sort of that cutting-edge research that's taking place in developing new technology. We also we fly a variety of sizes of things from whole giant spacecraft to single instruments. We have an instrument, I think, literally within the next couple of days being taken out of the trunk of the Dragon capsule and attached to the space station, because it was just launched last week on the latest cargo resupply mission to the space station. And it's a downward looking earth science instrument looking at mineral dust, which has a very strong, but not well quantified contribution to either warming or cooling or both of the atmosphere. And so studying the role of aerosols from mineral dust is what that instrument's going to do. We've got small lunar missions getting ready to go, a couple of those, things that'll peer into the permanently shattered regions from above and help us understand what's going on there. Small astrophysics missions too. We do things of all sizes here, and I think it's one of the exciting things, right? A young engineer can get some real sort of frontline hands-on experience on one of these small missions that maybe they wouldn't get on something big like Mars Sample Return where they're going to be surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of others. It's great for us to have a strong balance of work here on the lab. And we have more work now than we've ever had. We say, "Oh my gosh, we're so busy. We're so busy." Well, this is a good problem to have folks. But we've still got to make sure that we're giving everything the attention it needs, and so that's something we're really focusing on.

Mat Kaplan: I got another one for you. Next week I'm going to be talking to a couple of your researchers about their new cloud spotting on Mars, Citizen Science project.

Laurie Leshin: Oh cool.

Mat Kaplan: I think it's like a two-week old project. They've already got 2000 people involved with it. That allows me to go back to the importance of informing and involving the regular folks out there who pay for all of this work. I mean, how much of a priority is that?

Laurie Leshin: Absolutely. Actually, I just did my first town hall meeting here at JPL. I had like 4,000 JPLers between online and in-person listening in. Yeah, it's been great. And I talked about sort of our North Star, and sort of first priority is advancing science and benefiting humanity with our missions and our technology and our research. But the thing right after that was about inspiring everyone, right? Engaging everyone in our quest so that ... Space just helps you think bigger. It helps you think beyond yourself. And it gives hope. I mean, and I wasn't at JPL when Perseverance landed. The former director had not yet stepped down, so there wasn't even a twinkle in my eye at the moment. But stepping outside and looking up at the sky in the middle of the pandemic when Perseverance landed, I mean, it inspired me and I know it inspired people everywhere. It inspired the president of the United States. I mean, it's just a great thing to see how we can connect with the very best of people, and that's something I think we need right now.

Mat Kaplan: Bill Nye, when he is not talking about the PB&J, the passion, beauty, and joy of space, he likes to say, "Space brings out the best in us."

Laurie Leshin: It does. I agree with him. Bill's always right.

Mat Kaplan: Well, I work for him, so I have to say that. Earth science, I got that press release last week as we speak about that instrument that's been installed on the ISS. Yeah. We don't get to talk about it as much as some of us might like on this show, because we tend to look away from this planet. But you do have a lot going on with earth science and there are those elements of those missions that are going further out, right, which also contribute to earth science. I mean, learning about what happened on Mars and what happened on Venus, right?

Laurie Leshin: Sure. Absolutely. I mean, and this is the fun part, right? We've been exploring Mars almost continuously for 25 years. We're about to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Mars Pathfinder, it's hard to believe, along with the 10th anniversary of Curiosity, and then upcoming sample return and lots of orbiters and other missions in between. Venus has been neglected, sadly, and that's about to change because NASA is sending two missions and there's an international mission as well getting ready to go to Venus. And so we're getting back to Venus, and I think the contrast between our two neighbors, right, is shocking, and exciting and really worthy of a lot more study and understanding. And we're going to see Venus in a whole new light. Over the next decade, Venus will have a different place in our Psyche than it does now, so I'm excited about that. And those things do help us understand our own planet, but there's no substitute for really applying the very best scientific tools we have to understanding the earth, and to doing it over time scales that actually help us watch the changes happening so that we can sort of model and predict to the future and understand them at a very fundamental level much better than we do. And we've got lots happening on that front right now between EMIT launching between SWOT, which is about to launch around the end of November, beginning of December, which is a surface water mission. We've got lots of exciting upcoming things. We've even got a mission. Actually for the first time ever, we are doing a mission that's entirely philanthropically funded, so no NASA money, to look at methane plumes. Methane sort of pollution, and Carbon Plume Mapper it's called. And so we're working on that and we're working on it with private sector companies and others. It's a really exciting new partnership taking advantage of all of the new interests that we have in space exploration and also in protecting our home planet.

Mat Kaplan: We can't end this conversation without at least saying a few more words about those big splashy missions.

Laurie Leshin: Absolutely.

Mat Kaplan: Perseverance, just as we speak, picked up yet another sample from Jezero Crater. You mentioned just in passing that one that we're all very excited about that's headed out to Jupiter in a few years, Europa Clipper.

Laurie Leshin: Two years. Yeah. There's so much to say. First of all, Perseverance did just take two more core samples of a location that's finally ... Perseverance has been full of wonderful scientific surprises, right? It landed in Jezero Crater near the delta that it went to see, but not right on it. And so it turns out that as it started sampling, it was finding these igneous rocks, volcanic type rocks, which I love. I'm sort of a fan of igneous rocks. And they have like water overprinting on them, so they're not sort of pure. But we weren't expecting that. Super exciting. So we stashed those. But the real goal for this whole thing is to get to this Delta and start sampling this, the sediment that we think should be there. And we just did that for the first time. These latest cores, you can look at the ... And all these pictures are online. Anybody can go on. If you Google Perseverance raw images, you'll get to the page where every single day the pictures that we see can be the pictures that you see. You can find the ones that grind this rock and sort of give you a nice, smooth surface to look at, and you can see clearly rounded grains. It's a sedimentary rock with really interesting cement. And that can be crumbly, so it can be hard to sample, but they found a good one and they were able to do. They stashed a couple of cores of that, and now they're moving on to even more interesting looking stuff. With a little play to Star Wars, these are the rocks we're looking for. And that's what we came for, and we're excited to have some of those in our backpack to bring home now.

Mat Kaplan: I suspect you are one of the hundreds, if not thousands, of scientists who just cannot wait to get your hands on those samples.

Laurie Leshin: It's one of the things that really drew me to come to JPL at this time. I've literally been working to advocate for, and try to fly versions of Mars Sample Return for about 25 years, so the fact that we're finally here. But in the meantime, you did mention Europa Clipper, and I don't want to pass over that one because that's going to happen even sooner. So just a little more than two years from now, we'll launch our next mission to the outer solar system. It's a Jupiter orbiter, but it's one that's designed to do many, many, many close fly-bys of Europa, the fabulous moon of Jupiter, which we think has an ocean beneath its icy shell. And we are going to characterize and understand that ocean in incredible detail with this mission. And there will be a JWST-like moment for that mission when we get to Jupiter, and we really start to see close up what Europa has in store for us. It's going to be thrilling. And that spacecraft is coming together as we speak right here on the lab. It's in the last phase of when you do one of these missions, you spend a ton of time thinking about what science you want to do. And then you do a bunch of designing, designing, designing, and then you build all the pieces. And the last bit of it is putting everything together, testing it as an integrated system, and that's where we are with Europa Clipper now. It's really the home stretch in getting us back out to Jupiter. We're excited to do it. And it's going to launch on a Falcon Heavy in a couple of years, so that'll be a good show. And can't wait.

Mat Kaplan: I've seen a Falcon Heavy take off with our light sail among other payloads, and it's pretty thrilling.

Laurie Leshin: Oh. I haven't seen one yet in-person.

Mat Kaplan: You want to be there. You definitely want to be there. I also think of how Europa Clipper in so many ways is standing on the shoulders of giants itself, Cassini-

Laurie Leshin: Cassini-

Mat Kaplan: ... which told us-

Laurie Leshin: ... there's Voyager and Galileo, our other Jupiter orbiter mission. And now Juno we have out there too, which is a smaller mission, but still fantastic. I mean, clipper is huge just for scale for folks listening. I mean, if you stood it on its side, and the solar panels, it's a solar powered mission, if you can believe it, out of Jupiter, five times further from the sun. As a result, the solar panels will go from the toe to the crown of the Statue of Liberty. It's big. It's big.

Mat Kaplan: ... We check in with Scott Bolton every now and then-

Laurie Leshin: Oh, good.

Mat Kaplan: ... to get an update on Juno.

Laurie Leshin: Juno is spectacular.

Mat Kaplan: As we wrap up here, and switching gears somewhat, as we love to say in my business, do you have a message for young people who might be listening to this who dream of working at this place at the Jet Propulsion Lab?

Laurie Leshin: I do, which is come on down. We've got not only our public tours happening again, which is great, so you can come visit us. Lots of schools do. We have 500 interns here this summer. So as a college student, and occasionally even as high school students, you can have possibility of coming to work here. And if you think you might want to, that's a great way to have access. I myself got the bug as a summer intern at NASA when I was 19 years old, not here at JPL, but in Houston. It's just a great thing to do, and keep at it. There are lots of different ways you can participate in the space program too. You don't necessarily have to be a scientist or an engineer. We have lots of fabulous folks with all sorts of different backgrounds helping us explore the solar system and beyond. So please study hard and come join us.

Mat Kaplan: Yeah. I was just thinking after all Jim Green was a diver at Marshall Space Flight Center. Have you ever been here by the way for open house, that crazy event? I don't know when those are going to start up again.

Laurie Leshin: We hope to have an open house in 2023, next year. So yeah, we're excited. Everyone is excited to get that started again. We love it. We love showing off what we do. We love inspiring people in-person and we look forward to being able to do that. But in the meantime, folks can take a tour online. You can go to our website and you can take a virtual tour of JPL. And there's really a lot there, a lot of great content if anybody's out there looking for fun things to do with your kids.

Mat Kaplan: We will put up a link to that offer of a tour on this week's episode page, Planetry.org/radio. Thank you, Laurie. I mean, I hope to be back here again long before that 2023 open house that I recommend very highly. Maybe when we celebrate the 45th anniversary of the Voyager missions launch, which is as we speak only about a month away.

Laurie Leshin: That's true. Can you believe that? It's so inspiring to think that in that mission now the light time is 18 hours from earth. When we send a signal, it takes 18 hours to get to Voyager. Talk about a deep space adventure.

Mat Kaplan: Thanks again, Laurie. And enjoy your tenure here at the Jet Propulsion Lab.

Laurie Leshin: Thanks. Thanks for having me.

Mat Kaplan: Laurie Leshin is the new director of the Jet Propulsion Lab near Pasadena, California. Time again for What's Up on Planetary Radio. I'm with the chief scientist at The Planetary Society, that is Dr. Bruce Betts, who I forgot to tell Laurie Leshin, you were her classmate at Caltech. I apologize.

Bruce Betts: Well, hopefully she remembers.

Mat Kaplan: Well, I don't know now, but maybe-

Bruce Betts: Although she's reached such pinnacles of success and I work with you.

Mat Kaplan: ... Come on, you're the chief scientist.

Bruce Betts: I'm the chief scientist now. Laurie and I were in the same class in Caltech in the division of geological and planetary scientists.

Mat Kaplan: I hope you enjoyed the conversation. I really did.

Bruce Betts: Sure. I'm sure I will. I like space, I like JPL, and I like Laurie, so it will be good.

Mat Kaplan: There you go. Tell us about the night sky, damn it.

Bruce Betts: I did it. I insulted you enough that you swore heavily at me. I'm sorry everyone. Night sky, we have four nicely visible planets, Venus slow down on the horizon in the predawn, and you can go across the sky, but they're really spread out. If you're looking in the predawn, you can look up above Venus and see reddish Mars, which is getting brighter as Mars and earth come closer in their orbits. Farther up is Jupiter, bright. And then farther across is yellow Saturn. But they're really spread out. There's now a minor party going to a major party in the evening with these planets as well. Saturn's coming up in the early evening. Of course, things rise in the East, because earth rotation. And so you'll find Saturn in the East in the early evening, and then Jupiter a little couple hours later, and Mars a couple hours after that, so after the middle of the night. But we have a special guest appearance, not visible unless you have good eyesight in a dark site, but quite visible with binoculars, which is Uranus. And Uranus is always hanging out up there. But you can actually check it out kind of easily with Mars from July 30th to August 3rd. It's relatively close to Mars. And so if you'd get a binoculars, hold them steady, find Mars, you can check out a little blue dot, that's Uranus. Or if you've got a telescope, that works too. Use a finder chart online if you need it, but you can also look for the blue dot. Let's go on to this week in space history. It was 1971 that Apollo 15 landed on the moon, and they did great science. And of course they were the first to be humans driving around in a dune buggy on another world.

Mat Kaplan: Zoom, zoom.

Bruce Betts: Zoom, zoom, zoom. You ready?

Mat Kaplan: Yeah.

Bruce Betts: Random space bugs.

Mat Kaplan: Oh, I'm glad you warned me.

Bruce Betts: You looked a little too sedate. Have you heard of this place called JPL? It's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Mat Kaplan: Oh, yeah, yeah.

Bruce Betts: And a lot of people know this, and I'm sure you know this, but I thought it was time to share with the world why [inaudible] is a place that focuses on space exploration named the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It's because it evolved from a group under Caltech professor, Theodore von Karman, famous for all sorts of stuff, who did rocket research, including developing. And this, I had forgotten, developing jet assisted takeoff for aircraft, say strap rockets to the side of aircraft and help them take off on a short runway. The name Jet Propulsion Laboratory first appeared in a proposal to the US army in, I believe, 1943 during World War II, proposing to do rocket stuff. The army took over their efforts and the rest is history sort of once they joined NASA right as NASA started as a federally funded research center.

Mat Kaplan: It really is a fascinating story, the origin of JPL. The closest Laurie came was mentioning that we're in this gulch that people used to blow things up in, which was absolutely true. So maybe something that we'll save for another episode of the show, go even deeper into the history of that NASA center operated by Caltech.

Bruce Betts: We move on to the trivia contest. I have the ever insightful question for you. Generally speaking, what goal does the James Webb Space Telescope Heat Shield share with packaging of the now retired, sadly, McDonald's McDLT burger? How'd we do, Mat? Could people deal with my craziness?

Mat Kaplan: Oh yeah, they did, and they had so much fun with this. And I'll get to our winner in just a moment. But I do want to mention our deadline for this contest was the day that I made my big announcement. And since then, maybe we'll cover some of this in future shows, but thank you folks, everybody who has been writing and saying the most wonderful things to me about my decision to back off from the host chair of this show. In November, not till late November, so we have till then. But thank you. I do want to at least acknowledge those here, and I am trying to reply to everybody who says anything about this in a note. But anyway, before all that became common knowledge, we got this entry from Jonathan Gobuck, who I think might be a first time entry, is definitely a first time winner out of Virginia. Congratulations, Jonathan. Here is his response. "A box and a shield made of tears, more alike than at first it appears. One side is kept hot, the other is not, and they'll both last for hundreds of years."

Bruce Betts: Please explain. When they decided to retire the McDLT, I grabbed like 20 of them. I still have 10 left. Bring one out every year. They're still good. I mean, the hot side is not hot anymore. The answer in a nutshell in lacking the clever poetry is the whole point of both was to keep the hot side hot and the cold side cold. McDLT, they put the burger on one side, and the lettuce and tomato on the other side of packaging, and sold it as, "Hey, keep the hot side hot and the cold side cold," and that's exactly slightly differently what the JWST heat shield does, having one side always facing the sun, and then keep the detectors on the telescope nice and cold on the far side. There you go.

Mat Kaplan: Jonathan won a copy of your book, Solar System Reference for Teens, which is available all over the place now, and it's a really fine book. Jonathan, congratulations. Here are some of the other responses that we got from Kevin Carren also in Virginia. "Hi, Mat and Bruce. Thanks for the opportunity to answer a trivia question, my first, that combines my love of learning about the cosmos with the incessant soundtrack of '80s commercials in my head space."

Bruce Betts: Oh, well, it was perfect, because there's some fabulous commercials for the McDLT.

Mat Kaplan: Starring Jason Alexander, better known as Costanza from Seinfeld. Yeah. Cormack Smith in Florida. "I made so many of these during my early career."

Bruce Betts: Ooh, professional.

Mat Kaplan: Oh gosh. Michael Rowe in North Carolina who's been listening since 2006. "When I was doing consulting work in the early '90s to create a system to measure the amount of recycling done by a factory, I had the opportunity to see the styrofoam containers being made. Really cool to see the sheets of extruded plastic being molded." And guess what? All of those that you saw, Michael, are still in some landfill somewhere, I'm sure, and will be found several thousand years hence by archeologists.

Bruce Betts: Yeah, I kept like a hundred of those, and I've been using them for special packaging. Got some plutonium in one of them, it's fine.

Mat Kaplan: Ian Jackson. "Didn't they stop selling it because some regular customers started to get stomachs measuring about 1.75 earth radii?"

Bruce Betts: Maybe.

Mat Kaplan: Andrew Pant in Pennsylvania. "Maybe McDonald's should have just cooled the vegetables with liquid helium instead."

Bruce Betts: Well, that would be cold.

Mat Kaplan: In response to that, Steven Porter in California, "I don't think Bruce would have such fond memories of McDLTs if the lettuce, tomato were anywhere near the cold side temperature of the JWST." Ouch!

Bruce Betts: Yeah. Yeah. Under 50 Kelvin's, that is correct.

Mat Kaplan: Burton Caldwell in New York. "I bet the JWST team wishes it had been as easy as a styrofoam two part container."

Bruce Betts: Yes, but they have a much greater sense of accomplishment now.

Mat Kaplan: Finally this from our poet, Laureate Dave Fairchild, in Kansas. "McDonald's created the McDLT and wanted to serve it in sections, so half would be hot and the other stay cold till the pieces made final connections. The James Webb was given a five layered sheet, a heat shield for the machine. It's crafted of Kapton, a far better thing than McDonald's prepackaged styrene." Thank you everybody. And yeah, keep them coming folks. We got a new one coming up right now.

Bruce Betts: JPL. We returned one last time to JPL. "Name the locations, all the locations at JPL, to be clear at the JPL main campus, that are on the list of national historic landmarks." Go to planetary.org/radiocontest. Apparently you didn't know either.

Mat Kaplan: Who knew? Fascinating. Absolutely fascinating. All right. Well, I look forward to hearing the answer to this one, and we'll get those answers by the 3rd. That would be August 3rd, Wednesday at 8:00 AM Pacific time. And here's what somebody is going to win. It's a copy of a great new book called The Red Planet: A Natural History of Mars by Simon Morden, a researcher, planetary scientist, who is a great science communicator. It is a beautifully written book. Here's a quote about it written with a poet's flourish. This is your comprehensive guide to humanities future home. Well, I don't know if I want to live there, but I'd like to visit. Anyway, it's a very fine book and it will go to the winner of this contest that Bruce has just challenged us with.

Bruce Betts: All right, everybody, go out there and look up in the night sky and think about ... All I can think about is some McDLT. Think about McDLTs. Thank you. Good night.

Mat Kaplan: If you still have one or two in the freezer, I'll be right over.

Bruce Betts: You stay away from those.

Mat Kaplan: Planetary Radio is produced by The Planetary Society in Pasadena, California, and is made possible by its members, many of whom work down the road at JPL. Learn how to help propel us at planetary.org/join. Mark Hilverda and Rae Paoletta are our associate producers. Josh Doyle composed our theme, which is arranged and performed by Pieter Schlosser. Ad astra.