You’re never too old for pumpkin carving, a fact that NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) proves every year. For the past seven Halloweens, the JPL engineers have taken an hour break from building space exploration tools and engaged in the time-honored tradition of pumpkin carving. They host an unofficial contest where the prizes are bragging rights. And while the contestants aren’t your typical creative types, they continually wow us with what they design.
The rules for the JPL contest are simple. There’s no planning, carving, or competing during work hours. “They do it all in their own time,” NASA mechanical engineer Mike Meacham, one of the co-runners of the contest, explained. “They go home, use their own resources, plan it out, and all we give them is a pumpkin.”
Using their expertise as engineers and a bit of science humor, the teams don’t just carve the pumpkins; they bring them to life! They have a couple of approaches. One way is by transforming the pumpkins with moving parts—entries from previous years include spinning carnival rides, working robotic arms, and light-up UFOs. Another means of transformation is to create an immersive environment for the pumpkin. This year, teams built stages for their gourds and used props to enhance their characters. One of our favorites is a JPL interpretation of the movie E.T., where they wrapped a pumpkin in a sheet and placed it in a bike basket—complete with a backdrop of a full moon.
Interested in creating a pumpkin like a NASA engineer? They’ve created a list of helpful tips. Get inspired by checking out their handiwork, below.