See NASA's Epic Space Halloween Pumpkin Carving Contest in Action

Mars Sample Return Pumpkin
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California has some of the wildest Halloween pumpkins each year as part of a holiday contest. Case in point: This amazing Mars-themed entry from this year's contest. (Image credit: NASA/JPL)

If you're like me and take Halloween seriously, then a space-themed pumpkin is a must-have treat. The engineers and scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California think so, too. In fact, they have a contest each year to see which NASA team can dream up the best pumpkin work of art and this year's entries — which light up, spin and move — are simply out of this world. 

This year marks the sixth year that the members of JPL's Sections 352 and 355 held a pumpkin carving contest for Halloween, and the entries did not disappoint. JPL officials in Pasadena posted short videos of all the pumpkins in action on Flickr, and you can see them all below. The first entry (shown above) is simple and elegant, with JPL's initials glowing a deep red, and sample vials raised up from the pumpkin's top. NASA's description reads: "A sign accompanying this candy-filled pumpkin noted that 'Mars sample returns are like a box of chocolates: you never know what you're going to get. '" [See More Awesome Space-y Halloween Pumpkin Photos]

Halloween is a special time for JPL, which was founded on Oct. 31, 1936. That means that in addition to tricks and treats, JPL is celebrating its 80th birthday today. This towering pumpkin birthday cake creation celebrates that anniversary with spooky style. 

JPL's Team 352C went retro for its pumpkin entry this year, dreaming up an awesome gourd version of Ms. Pac-Man chomping on ghosts (as you can see below). I hope its spooky entry number "13" wasn't too unlucky in the competition.

In July, NASA's Juno spacecraft arrived at Jupiter — and why not celebrate that planetary feat with a pumpkin fete? That's what's happening in this stunning entry, which features a pale pumpkin version of Jupiter's icy moon Europa (complete with water plumes) while Juno orbits Jupiter in the background. 

It's no surprise that pumpkin pie is popular this time of year, but Pumpkin Pi? This JPL entry takes a mathematic look at our favorite Halloween decoration. 

If pumpkin mayhem is more your thing, this stunning entry (which NASA titled "Just a scratch") shows what just might happen if a gourd met the business end of JPL's Starshade project, which aims to build a vast, flowerlike shade in space to aid in the search for alien planets.

Around and around this next entry goes, where it stops only the pumpkin knows! Welcome to NASA's Halloween carnival, in pumpkin form. 

The Juno Jupiter probe makes another appearance in this next entry, along with a hauntingly painted pumpkin in place of the gas giant planet and some stunning light elements. I suspect they represent the harsh radiation environment Juno experiences.

And now for something creepy. What lurks within the heart of this next pumpkin? Something weird to say the least. This "Lights out" entry is a "reluctant pumpkin" that seems not to want anything to do with JPL's contest, according to NASA. 

Last, but certainly not least, we have the obligatory UFO pumpkin conducting its own "sample-return mission" before heading back to the Red Planet. I hope that cow can find its way home! NASA called this one "Abduction by pumpkin."

And that's a wrap for NASA's awesome space pumpkins from JPL's 2016 contest this year. They certainly put my Apollo 11 moonwalking pumpkin to shame, but in all fairness I did use a NASA template. I hope you found some inspiration from NASA's images and videos, and have a very happy (and space-y) Halloween!

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.