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Jet Propulsion Laboratory Archives: Historical Photo of the Month

Guide for accessing all types of materials in the JPL Archives.

On this page, the JPL Archivists share historical photos from the JPL Archives. The JPL Archives' mission is to document the rich organizational, mission, and cultural histories of the institution by identifying, collecting, preserving, and making available primary source materials that have value for research by users at JPL/Caltech/NASA and the wider public.

The content presented here should be viewed in the context of the time period. Our intent is to present the history of JPL in a factual manner that uses primary resources and historical context. We recognize that some information or images do not reflect the current values, policies, and mission of JPL.

Access Previous Historical Photos of the Month

Each below photo will link to the full size image on Pub-Lib. In the upper right hand corner, click on the three dots, then click on Details to see the full caption of each image. 

For more previous photos, please click here

P-131B

The JPL Photo Lab has been an integral part of the Lab throughout its tenure, creating a photographic record of JPL’s storied history. The JPL Photolab dates back to 1941, when it was first established by GALCIT Project No. 1, as JPL was then known. George Emmerson, the first photographer, recorded data during testing of propellants, rockets, and jet-assisted take-off units, and documented other JPL activities and facilities.  Over the years, the Photolab expanded the operation to include both still and moving images, updating their equipment to provide a wider range of services and products.  By the 1970s, millions of images were produced each year for imaging teams, mission Principle Investigators, the press, and Regional Planetary Image Facilities around the world.

Beginning in 1995, a major transformation took place that changed the JPL Photolab from analog (chemically-based) service to a full-service digital photographic imaging facility. Systems used in the capture, reproduction, and distribution of images at JPL were replaced, and the new digital systems have improved response time, reduced facilities requirements for space, eliminated large distribution requirements of hard copy, and eliminated chemical processing. This photo, taken 1952-10-29, depicts an early Photolab staffer with an 8x10 studio camera; many images taken with this camera now belong in the Archives.

Check out the Photolab to see what they’re up to now, or get in touch at photolab@jpl.nasa.gov! CL#-21-5953

P-58H

It’s the 70th anniversary of JPL’s first Miss Guide Missile contest! Beginning in 1952, JPL held an annual contest for the All-Lab Summer Dance. A handful of women across Lab would become candidates, following a nomination and sponsorship from their respective supervisors. Selected by popular vote, Miss Guided Missile would become the “Sweetheart of the Lab” for her year-long reign, and serve on the Employee Recreation Club (ERC).

1952’s Miss Guided Missile was Lee Ploughe, the Nurse in charge of JPL’s First Aid Room (located in Building 104). According to the April 1952 issue of Lab-Oratory, Ploughe’s “pleasing personality makes your visit [to the First Aid Room] as painless as possible!” Additionally, Ploughe served as a reporter for Lab-Oratory throughout her tenure at JPL.

The annual contest remained Miss Guided Missile through 1958, when it became known as Queen of Outer Space. Her duties are fairly light during the year: “she officiates at various recreational events such as dances, annual family picnics, children’s Christmas part[ies] and sometimes helps advertise sub-club events.” The other contestants serve as her princesses and are occasionally called upon…wherever needed.”

Don’t forget to view the Archives’ full guide to each year’s contestants and winners! CL#21-5952

It’s the 70th anniversary of JPL’s first Miss Guide Missile contest! Beginning in 1952, JPL held an annual contest for the All-Lab Summer Dance. A handful of women across Lab would become candidates, following a nomination and sponsorship from their respective supervisors. Selected by popular vote, Miss Guided Missile would become the “Sweetheart of the Lab” for her year-long reign, and serve on the Employee Recreation Club (ERC).

1952’s Miss Guided Missile was Lee Ploughe, the Nurse in charge of JPL’s First Aid Room (located in Building 104). According to the April 1952 issue of Lab-Oratory, Ploughe’s “pleasing personality makes your visit [to the First Aid Room] as painless as possible!” Additionally, Ploughe served as a reporter for Lab-Oratory throughout her tenure at JPL.

The annual contest remained Miss Guided Missile through 1958, when it became known as Queen of Outer Space. Her duties are fairly light during the year: “she officiates at various recreational events such as dances, annual family picnics, children’s Christmas part[ies] and sometimes helps advertise sub-club events.” The other contestants serve as her princesses and are occasionally called upon…wherever needed.”

Don’t forget to view the Archives’ full guide to each year’s contestants and winners! CL#21-5952

325-39A

 20 September marks the 55th anniversary of the launch of JPL’s spacecraft, Surveyor II! This lander/rover was destined for the Moon, carrying with it an imaging system intended to bring back an array of lunar photos. This image, taken 6 December 1962, shows the A-21 mock-up of the Surveyor M12 Model 62. 

The craft lost control and crashed into the Moon just southeast of Copernicus crater at 8:18PM on 23 September 1966. Contact with Surveyor II was lost early that morning when there was a failure in the communications or power system during the firing of the 10,000 pound thrust retro engine. Up to the time of loss of contact, there was no evidence of further failure in the spacecraft beyond that of the vernier engine number three to fire upon command. This failure threw Surveyor II into an uncontrolled tumble, with efforts to re-stabilize it failing. The following year, ts successor, Surveyor III, ultimately made a soft landing on the Moon, making further inroads into the preparations for future human lunar missions. 

We’d love to hear from you! For more information about the history of JPL, please contact the JPL Archives at archives@jpl.nasa.gov. 

Historical Photo of the Month

August 2022

P-2037A

11 August 2022 marks the 70th anniversary of JPL’s conversion to the dial telephone system! In 1952, the Lab had the largest and most modern telephone exchange in the entire Pasadena area, about 75% of the Lab’s incoming calls were direct-dialed. At this time, PBX operators were handling upwards of 300 calls per hour, with a small staff run by PBX supervisor, Sally Crane. According to the August 1952 issue of Lab-Oratory, the implementation of the dial telephone system is a direct result of the unprecedented growth of the Lab during the early 1950s.

This photo, taken 28 August 1962, represents the staffers known as the ‘JPL Telephone Girls.’ The original PBX staff included Julia Plagemann, Kay Kent, Phyllis Mittlestedt, and Hannah Ash, under the leadership of JPL trailblazer, Sally Crane. CL#21-5935

The content presented here should be viewed in the context of the time period. Our intent is to present the history of JPL in a factual manner that uses primary resources and historical context. We recognize that some information or images do not reflect the current values, policies, and mission of JPL.

P-3883A; Photo by Jim McClure (1620)

The Space Flight Operations Facility (SFOF) has been undergoing so many renovations over the past few years! This side-by-side, taken 1964-09-03 and 2021-09-21 show just how much SFOF has changed (or not) over time.

As of 1963, directly behind the Central Engineering Building (CEB), which became the new headquarters for the Lab, SFOF was under construction. The hub of JPL, SFOF has hosted such historic moments as the launch of Rangers and Mariners all the way to Mars2020, JPL staff orientations, and the rise of the lucky peanuts. As a facility that played such a critical role in the history of space exploration, SFOF was designated a national historic landmark in July 1994.

Today, SFOF is a regular stop on JPL general tours, open houses, and other JPL-hosted events. From its amazing viewing gallery, to the Lucky Peanuts, to the Center of the Universe, SFOF remains one of the main highlights of the JPL landscape. CL#21-5954

Contact information for the JPL Archives:

If you have questions about historical photos, or about the history of JPL, please contact the JPL Archives.