Gov. Jerry Brown, from left, JPL Director Charles Elachi and Director of the Mars Exploration Directorate Fuk Li take a look at recorded footage of the Mars rover Curiosity landing in the control room at JPL.

Gov. Jerry Brown, from left, JPL Director Charles Elachi and Director of the Mars Exploration Directorate Fuk Li take a look at recorded footage of the Mars rover Curiosity landing in the control room at JPL. (Cheryl Guerrero/Staff photographer / August 23, 2012)

Calling the work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory “important for California,” Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday defended government investment in science, and in projects such as high-speed rail even at a time of deficits and cuts to core services.

“If the idea is when you got a problem you don’t do anything, then you shut this place down, that’s stupid,” he said during his visit to the campus in La Cañada Flintridge. “You’ve got to do more than one thing. We have to invest as well, as we take care of all these other problems.

“JPL and this mission just demonstrate anew what the full potential of California is.”

His visit came on the heels of JPL successfully landing its rover Curiosity on Mars – a hugely complicated mission that has captured public interest in NASA and planetary exploration.

Flanked by Caltech President Jean-Lou Chameau, JPL Director Charles Elachi and other science leaders, Brown met some of the scientists and engineers who successfully landed Curiosity and addressed a group of more than 400 of their peers.

“I’m very grateful, every one of you, for what you’re doing,” he said. “It’s important for California, it’s important for our country, it’s important for the world, it’s important for the future.”

“You are really in the forefront,” he added.

Brown acknowledged that he didn’t take any science courses in college, but reminisced about his involvement with the space industry over the years and the reputation he earned for proposing far-out ideas during his first term as governor, from 1974 and 1982.

The agenda eventually led to his nickname, Gov. Moonbeam.

“I talked a little bit too much about space and then they came to think I might be a little spacey,” he said. “There’s a lot of other ingredients in my moonbeamship.”

-- Tiffany Kelly, Times Community News

Follow Tiffany on Google+ or on Twitter: @LATiffanyKelly

[Editor's note: This article has been revised to correct a photo caption that incorrectly identified JPL Director Charles Elachi.]