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You’d think building robots that explore other planets would be a fulfilling job, but employees at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory take carving Halloween pumpkins just as seriously.
For the past seven years, the JPL crew — which include bright minds working on the company’s rover mission to Mars in 2020 — have held an “unofficial” pumpkin carving contest that lets engineers demonstrate their creative muscle.
And you think building spacecraft was flexing.
According to co-organiser and engineer Mike Meacham — whose team won bronze in 2017 for a “green Frankenstein gourd that hovered in mid-air, suspended by a mini-parachute and an air blower” — had no idea how much engineers loved pumpkins.
And his idea wasn’t even the most inventive in NASA’s history.
Previous endeavours include a carved UFO beaming up a cow. Another was turned into a carousel that spun around smaller pumpkins. While another goured had a lightswitch that flipped its lid, and set of lights, on or off. And if that’s still not enough, try “a celestial pirate ship that sailed past Jupiter on an ocean of dry ice”.
For US citizens worrying about tax dollars, you’re not paying to entertain engineers each October. The veg are only allowed to be carved after hours per competition rules. And the competition as a whole is as good for morale.
“Everyone gets so excited about this competition that has no prize other than bragging rights,” said another Mars 2020 rover engineer, Iona Brockie.
“It’s fun to see everybody bring the same kind of crazy energy that they do to making the flight projects to something as simple as a pumpkin carving contest.”
NASA’s letting the public in on the fun too.
All snaps from the competition will be uploaded to its Flickr account in due course.
As for the Mars 2020 mission, all we can hope for is that the rover it’ll be sending won’t be mistakenly made of pumpkin.
Feature image: NASA/JPL-Caltech