"CBS This Morning" social media producer Kevin Prince traveled to the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, to capture virtual reality video of the campus in partnership with Jaunt VR.
The first thing you see when entering the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory campus is a sign that fittingly reads: "Welcome to our universe."
We arrived at 7:15 a.m., and the JPL Visitors Center was already buzzing with guests waiting to enter the NASA campus that is home to the Mars Curiosity mission team and NASA's 2020 unmanned mission to Mars.
Why was I there?
"CBS This Morning" had just been the first TV broadcast to go behind-the-scenes of the assembly work for the Mars 2020 mission, and we were about to shoot the first virtual reality footage of that same assembly work.
With our producers and cameramen from the virtual reality firm Jaunt VR in tow, we met our JPL guide and hopped on a golf cart to our first stop: the spacecraft assembly room. This room is a "clean room" where assembly on the first craft for the Mars 2020 mission had begun.
Every camera, piece of equipment, and human being had to be completely cleaned and sterilized before entering.
We suited up in "bunny suits," which covered our bodies from head-to-toe, and stepped into a small room that shot air at us from all angles. This room served as the barrier between real life and the clean room.
We were standing in the very room where scientists were assembling the first structure for the Mars 2020 mission. The large silver spacecraft in front of us would eventually lower the Mars rover onto the surface of the red planet. Jaunt's virtual reality camera NEO was powered up and filming 360-degree footage from within the room.
I asked one scientist about the unusual tape holding wires and equipment together.
"Is that space tape?"
She explained the tape is sterile and could withstand the pressures of space, so yes, "space tape" it was.
Our next stop with Jaunt's NEO virtual reality camera was the "Center of the Universe" at JPL's Space Flight Operations Facility. This is the master control, where NASA scientists watch and control all missions coming out of JPL. It's where they celebrated the Mars Curiosity rover landing, and where they will eventually watch the Mars 2020 rover land on Mars. It actually looked a lot like a TV control room.
In the direct middle of the room there's a bright blue light box in the floor -- we had reached the "Center of the Universe."
"Many JPL scientists have held marriage proposals here," our guide explained.
The last location we visited was JPL's "Mars Yard," an outdoor park where scientists drive test rovers over fake craters, steep hills, jagged rocks and red dirt. The yard, which looked like a construction site, was meant to simulate the surface of Mars.
We walked into a shed, and there it was: a nearly-exact replica of the Mars Curiosity rover. It looked like a giant WALL-E.
NEO was fired up one last time, and captured a 360-degree view of the rover in the shed.
"Welcome to our universe," indeed.