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November 2018 Letter to Friends of Caltech

November 1, 2018

Dear Friends of Caltech:

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the launch of the JPL-built, Caltech satellite Explorer I, the United States’ response to Sputnik and the first scientific space mission. The creation of a civilian space agency, NASA, followed six months later in July 1958, and the ensuing decades ushered in an extraordinary and vibrant legacy of planetary exploration. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory continues to make history, and we marked our partnership with NASA just last month with the formal extension of the Caltech management contract for JPL.

Former Caltech President Lee DuBridge spoke in 1967 about the tradition of excellence shared between campus and JPL:

“Aeronautical engineering was not initiated at Caltech because it was a well established and ‘safe’ area into which to move. Quite the contrary. It was new. It was risky; its future, though full of promise, was still unclear. A new approach was called for – an approach of new understanding based on mathematics and physics and careful basic experimentation. I do not need to remind you how this approach has paid off.”

Fifty years later, we remain true to the approach of mastering fundamental understanding to drive innovation. Whether it be charting the changes in Earth’s atmosphere, mining the sedimentary features on Mars and then returning the rocks to Earth, exploring the ocean worlds of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, accelerating robotic probes out of the heliosphere, or discerning the nature of the universe following the Big Bang, Caltech scientists and engineers strive to accomplish what no one else can.

It is in this spirit that we continue to push the frontiers of science, technology, and our imaginations. It is in this spirit that we emphasize the need for fearlessness and reinvention. It is in this spirit that we recruit the researchers on campus and at JPL who provide the discriminating advantage for unparalleled discovery.

Freya Stark, the explorer and cartographer, talked about the joys of discovery: 

“This is a great moment, when you see, however distant, the goal of your wandering. The thing which has been living in your imagination suddenly becomes part of the tangible world. It matters not how many ranges, rivers or parching dusty ways may lie between you; it is yours now forever.”

As we look forward to the next 60 years, we celebrate the dedication and the inspiration that convert imagination to the tangible world. The accomplishments that we note and anticipate inevitably involve parching dusty ways on the journey to discovery, but the friends and supporters of the Institute help see us through to a successful end. Thank you for all that you do to elevate Caltech, our country, and the world.


Thomas F. Rosenbaum

Enclosure: Exploration and Achievement: Campus + JPL Collaboration