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May 24, 2016 - We had to get up early this morning for our 120 mile drive into the Mojave Desert.  Our destination was Fort Irwin, CA for a 9:00 AM tour of the JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex.  Goldstone is one of three complexes around the world known as the Deep Space Network, established to provide the ability to communicate with spacecraft; not only in orbit around the earth, but also in the farther reaches of our solar system.  The Deep Space Network complexes, placed 120° apart on the globe, provide continuous communication with spacecraft as the Earth rotates.  Goldstone was the first site chosen for a Deep Space Station.  This location was selected because it is remote from power lines and free of interference from commercial radio and television transmitters, which can impede reception of the very weak signals sent by the spacecraft.  This remote location is near to the gold-mining ghost town of Goldstone.  The Goldstone facility began construction of its first antenna in 1958.  The other complexes in the network are located near Madrid, Spain and Canberra, Australia.  The sensitive antennas that we saw today are capable of retrieving signals as small as 1 billionth of 1 billionth of 1 watt….a mere whisper.

We had lots of security checks today since we passed through the main gate for the Fort Irwin Army Base and then a second check at the Goldstone gate.

On the way to the Goldstone gate, we passed the "Rockpile."

After meeting our guide, Leslie Cunkelman, we headed out in our caravan tour.  Leslie led four vehicles, including us, for about a thirty mile round-trip tour of all the antennae stations at Goldstone.  The entire facility occupies about 58 square miles.

Here's a shot of our caravan.

We happened upon five burros wandering through the desert (four adults and one baby burro) and Leslie told us there are several hundred at the facility.  When the gold prospectors left, they left the burros thinking that they would die from the brutal desert conditions.  One hundred years later, it's obvious that they have thrived living off the natural vegetation.

The scenery here is pretty spectacular.

The largest antennae here is the Mars Station measuring about 230 feet in diameter.

In addition to the Apollo and Mars Stations, we also saw the Echo, Venus and Gemini stations.

After our driving tour we stopped in at the on-site NASA-JPL museum.

This is the front page from the local Barstow newspaper excitedly announcing the gold found at Goldstone.  It was published in 1916.

Here's Leslie showing us the monitors of each operating antennae at Goldstone, Madrid and Canberra.  For a live image of this tracking, click here.  This page is interactive so you can click on any antennae and see what it looks like and what spacecraft it is currently tracking.  It's pretty impressive!

These are the deep spacecraft currently being monitored  at Goldstone.

It was a great tour and it lasted for two and one-half hours.  We stopped in Barstow on our way home at an In-N-Out Burger for some lunch.  Barstow is halfway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas and every tour bus running between the two cities had stopped at In-N-Out as well.  Unfortunately they all stopped about 10 minutes before we arrived.  It was so crowded, there must have been about 250 people all jammed into the restaurant.  So, we waited awhile and finally got our burgers and were on our way.  It was a fascinating adventure.

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