Deep Space Station 14 -- informally dubbed the Mars antenna because its initial task, in 1966, was to track a spacecraft after it flew past Mars -- spreads from the ground like a looming, 10-story poppy. Its most eye-catching element is its parabolic dish, which stretches nearly the length of a football field and weighs, struts and radio equipment included, nearly 2,000 tons.
In March, in anticipation of a series of spacecraft launches over the next five years that could lead to a manned flight to Mars, a major remodeling job began. The focus of the $5.6-million project, led by JPL and paid for by NASA, has been on the guts of the structure, an 80-foot-wide ring of steel and cement known as the hydrostatic bearing. It provides a foundation for the dish, allowing it to spin on a horizontal plane. Like a puck on slippery ice, the dish rotates by sliding on a thin coat of oil constantly pumped on the bearing's surface.
Full story from the Los Angeles Times