A family of explorers

A family of explorers

JPL/Caltech Rose Parade Float


Here comes a 50-foot-tall robot! But don't worry, it's only out to explore the Universe. It is made up of 10 NASA spacecraft, gathered into a "Family of Explorers," skating down Pasadena's Colorado Boulevard in the 2005 Rose Parade. The Rose Parade has happened every year on January 1st (or 2nd, if the 1st is a Sunday) for the past 116 years in Pasadena, California. It is seen on TV all around the world.

Family of Explorers title on float.Closeup of JPL/Caltech logos on float.

The first ever!

"Family of Explorers" is the first Rose Parade float ever made by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and California Institute of Technology (Caltech), which manages JPL. JPL and Caltech are located in Pasadena, so it's about time they made a float! Their first-ever float won the newly created Crown City Innovation Trophy for imagination and innovation to advance the art of float design.

The float salutes the space missions managed by JPL and Caltech and the family of scientists, professors, and researchers that made the missions possible. All these spacecraft are currently exploring somewhere in the solar system, either in Earth orbit or beyond . . . way beyond in several cases. Each of them is helping humans take big steps toward understanding Earth, Mars, the Saturn system, comets, the Sun, and the vast Universe beyond.

Not to scale

The real spacecraft range from about the height of a human to over 30 feet tall. But the models on the float are all about the same size. Starting from the bottom, the robot's feet are skating on the Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. The right leg is the Genesis spacecraft, on a mission to explore the Sun. The left leg is Jason-1, studying Earth's oceans. The right arm is GALEX, the Galaxy Evolution Explorer telescope. The left arm is Mars Global Surveyor, studying Mars from orbit. On the belly of the robot is Stardust, grabbing comet samples and sending them back to Earth for study. On the chest is GRACE, the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment using a new approach to studying the oceans' role in climate. On the back of the right arm is the Spitzer Space Telescope, studying the Universe in infrared light. And like a fancy hat, the Cassini spacecraft with the Huygens Probe are perched on the robot's head, studying Saturn and its moon Titan.

Animated personality

Rocket motor back-pack on robot.The robot's head moved from side to side. The entire robot tilted from upright to leaning forward by about 15 degrees. Carbon dioxide "smoke" blasted out from the rockets on the robot's backpack. Several strobe lights flashed on the helmet and body. At one point on the parade route, the float had to go under a freeway overpass. The whole robot leaned forward so it was lying face down, going from 50 feet tall to only 17-1/2 feet tall. A counter-balance of 5,000 pounds at the rear kept the float from tipping forward.

Beautifully dressed

About three-quarters of a million flowers decorated the float. Some were small, dried flowers and some were small flowers that were finely cut up and glued on. About 500 pounds of seeds were also glued on. The solar panels on the spacecraft were covered with blue and purple statice, silver leaf, onion seed and crushed rice. Other materials used were carnations, eucalyptus leaf, onion seed, roses, orchids, and gladiolas. The finished float weighed 30,500 pounds!

Team effort

Thousands of people worked on the float! Designer, welders, screeners, mechanics, animators, sound technicians, artists, florists, and more than a thousand volunteer decorators altogether worked about 20,000 hours to complete the float.

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