Caltech’s rocket-building occultist who cofounded NASA JPL is getting a TV show
|August 7, 2017 - Jack Parsons, the eccentric scientist who tested rockets and fuel accelerants in Hahamongna in the Arroyo Seco will be featured in a CBS streaming series. I wonder if they will discuss perchlorate?|
|JPL’s original “Suicide Squad” members, from left: Rudolph Schott, Amo Smith, Frank Malina, Ed Forman, and Jack Parsons, in 1936. (Courtesy of Caltech)|
Jack Parsons and a group dubbed the “Suicide Squad” built America’s rocket program in the hills of Pasadena, but Parsons’ double life as an occultist relegated his legacy to the footnotes of history books for decades.
The co-founder of what would become NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory worked with English occultist Aleister Crowley performing mystic rituals to summon a goddess, Babalon, to give birth to the Antichrist.
Parsons died in an explosion at his Orange Grove Avenue workshop in Pasadena in 1952, nearly a decade before the first humans rocketed into outer space. His secret life made national headlines after his death.
“It was really the imaginative leap that he took that made rocketry in the U.S. plausible,” said George Pendle, author of “Strange Angel,” a 2006 biography of Parsons’ life. “He was willing to believe in the most far out stuff, whether it was magic or rocketry, he didn’t mind, it was almost the same thing.”
Television network CBS announced last week they would pick up “Strange Angel” as a series for their streaming service, CBS All Access. The show would follow “the mysterious-yet-brilliant double life of Jack Parsons in Los Angeles during the 1940s,” according to the company.
Famed science fiction director Ridley Scott will serve as executive producer on “Strange Angel.” David Lowery of a “A Ghost Story” will direct from a script written by Mark Heyman, screenwriter for “Black Swan.”
The show, offered exclusively on the streaming service, does not have a premiere date yet, according to CBS.
Scott’s production company, Scott Free, has shopped “Strange Angel” around for years. AMC previously optioned the book, then decided not to move forward with the series.
“Strange Angel” is the first drama to tackle Parsons’ life.
Pendle couldn’t discuss specifics about the show, but he said Parsons makes for an intriguing character who “isn’t like any scientist most people have heard of.”
While working as an engineer, Parsons crossed paths with L. Ron Hubbard, the father of Scientology, and communicated regularly with Crowley, leader of a cult-like religious group.
In 2010, Caltech’s theater arts program staged “Pasadena Babylon,” a play about Parsons’ darker side, by writer George Morgan. The cast included Caltech students, JPL staff and others from the community. It was largely set in the Parsonage, the home Parsons shared with like-minded “New Age” residents on Millionaire’s Row in Pasadena, according to a release about the play.
Parsons’ Pasadena mansion became a group home for lovers of drugs, sex and black magic.
To some, Parsons’ day job might as well have been magic too. In the 1930s, the idea of rockets carrying men to the moon was science fiction. People thought the idea was crazy when Parsons began his work, Pendle said.
“To him, rocket science and magic were two sides of the same coin,” the author said. “They were two ways to escape the Earth.”
Parsons, a Pasadena Junior College dropout, tinkered with explosives for a while before connecting with Caltech professor Theodore von Karman and student Frank Malina.
Parsons, Malina and Ed Forman, a mechanic and childhood friend of Parsons, tested their rockets in the Arroyo Seco near Devil’s Gate. They were dubbed the “Suicide Squad” because of their dangerous work.
The group eventually got space on Caltech’s campus before they were banished back into the hillside not long after because of the noise and explosions, according to JPL’s official history.
Their work would kickstart the space age and lead to the creation of JPL and Aerojet Engineering Corp.
While researching his book, Pendle spoke with Jon Booth, JPL’s archivist at the time. Booth found papers written by Parsons “plugging up gaps in the archive,” the author said.
“That’s how much credit they gave Parsons and his gang,” he said.
Parsons died before seeing his rockets used for anything other than war. Investigators believed Parsons dropped a coffee can with unstable chemicals inside on the floor, triggering an explosion, according to Pendle’s book.
The 37-year-old was declared dead roughly a half-hour later at Huntington Memorial Hospital.
“His whole dream was fueled by science fiction fancies,” Pendle said. “He didn’t see the swing after the war to reclaim the space dreams he had promoted.”
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