his is a story of a man who had bizarre habits, to say the least. Blowing up toilets as a youth in military academies didn't foreshadow what he truly became, and to this day, hardly anyone, especially NASA, talk about him, because this man is a page in their history that they would like to forget, but they cannot deny.
In the 1920's and 30's, no one believed that it was possible for mankind to land on the moon, but Jack Parsons was determined to prove everyone in his field wrong, by any means necessary. And did he ever live up to that mantra with strange practices.
Born into a wealthy family in California at the start of World War 1, Parsons was fascinated about space from an early age, and adored science fiction stories, often preferring to do that than socializing with kids his own age. This is where his love for explosiveness grew, and his favorite activity as a youth was to pack casings tightly using black powder from fireworks which resulted in rudimentary rockets.
The stranger habits began not too long after, where he also grew fascinated with the concept of magic. The fascination grew to absurd levels when he openly tried to contact the devil into his bedroom. His obsession with having man on the moon became a life goal at that point, and he was willing to do anything to make this goal a reality, even if it meant selling his soul to Satan.
This frightening behavior was understandably worrisome for his parents, so they sent Parsons to San Diego's Military Academy for Boys to discipline him and hopefully change his habits for the better. He wanted to study chemistry and physics at the Pasadena Junior College, but due to his family's wealth deteriorating, he could no longer afford the tuition; ditto for his attempts to study at Stanford.
The Suicide Squad
In 1936, Parsons, along with his colleagues who shared some of his obsession to send man to the moon, encountered Theodore von Karman, who was the director of the aeronautical department at Caltech. Karman, who was happy to see a group of young men interested in rockets, and who was impressed by their enthusiasm, gave the group access to use the school's facilities.
Thus, the suicide squad was born.
This name which was directed at Parsons' group became famous around the campus of Caltech, primarily because these rocket experiments were very dangerous, and on some occasions, the group narrowly avoided certain death.
The group did succeed however, in creating JATO, which was a rocket assisting takeoff rocket; the first of it's kind. This completely changed the industry forever, and it gave hope to many that it was indeed possible for man to leave the Earth. That got the attention of the United States government, and they ended up hiring Parsons and his group to grow/create the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Decades later, this very same laboratory would become the critical building blocks for NASA.
It was around this time in Parsons' life that he met a magician named Aleister Crowley, and thus, Parsons' life took a sinister dark turn.
By all accounts, Parsons, most certainly lived a double life. During the daytime he worked for the US government on the JPL project, and by night he was learning Crowley's occultist teachings, and finding ways to implement them to help him achieve his lifelong goal. The belief system was known as Thelema, and it revolved around making one's desire or want a reality, by any means necessary.
As British author George Pendle put it regarding why Parsons joined Thelema:
"Occultism offered very similar things rocketry does. Expanding one's arena pushing mankind to a greater level, of leaving Earth for a new metaphysical world, just as rocketry said you could leave Earth for new planets. And I think for him, there were really close parallels between occultism and rocketry".
Crowley, who loved the idea of being labeled as "demonic", was known to use magic rituals to summon demons for his bidding. Followers of this cult believed in magic, but not the kind you would think, but rather, sex magic, and this was something that Parsons grew to love.
Parsons loved it, because the cult believed that the intense orgasm that someone can experience during sex, can create a pathway to the universe, and during that moment of intimacy, a person can create a magic spell.
Parsons became a leader of this, and he had others join him in his place of residence where they would engage in sexual activity as a group, in the hopes that Parsons' wish of sending a man to outer space via rocket would come true.
This ended his marriage, but Parsons' wife had a sister, who Parsons began to have an affair with, and she too believed strongly in the cult, and would actively participate with other followers, including Parsons.
Crowley called marriage, "a detestable institution", and Parsons went back to this phrase to justify this crazy habit. Parsons looked up to Crowley, and wanted to increase his rank within the cult further. By 1943, Parsons' ex wife started an affair with the leader at another section of the cult. This led to Crowley reprimanding this other man, telling him to tattoo his forehead with the numbers "666", and to never contact other members of the cult again.
Thus, Parsons became the new leader of the Agape Lodge, and it was during this time in his life that he was truly at his peak on all fronts. He played a strong role in ensuring that the government knew the importance of rockets during the World War 2 effort, and the government complied. He began a successful business which was known as Aerojet, and in the final couple years of the war, the US army ordered approximately 2,000 rockets from his company.
Later Life and Death
Eventually, Parsons was fired from the JPL project and Aerojet began to go down the drain, because word got around about his unusual practices. His personal life also took a hit, when his then girlfriend left him in a jealous fit of rage for another man named L. Ron Hubbard, who later formed the religion of Scientology.
In order to replace his girlfriend with someone else, Parsons began to increase his activities with magic, which included witchcraft, unknown scriptures, and masturbation.
In 1946, his magic supposedly came true in the form of his future wife, Marjorie Cameron, who he married on October 19, 1946 at a service that Parsons best friend witnessed, Edward Forman. The couple fell in love, and were heavily invested in the cult. On one famous occasion, the two went into Parsons' room, where they began their sex magic, and didn't emerge for two weeks.
By the early 1950's, the US government became very paranoid about anything associated with the USSR. Parsons was employed at Hughes Aircraft Co at the time, and began to be investigated by the FBI, as they believed that he was aiding the communist regime with information pertaining to rockets.
Upon realizing he was under surveillance, Parsons truthfully told the FBI that he was bringing documents home to show examples of his past work so that Israeli employers would hire him. This backfired mightily, because the FBI now believed he was a spy for the Israeli government, and unfortunately, this effectively not only ended Parsons' employment with Hughes Aircraft Co, but it also ended his career for good. He was now blacklisted from getting any sort of employment in his favorite field, and this was now the beginning of the end.
A man who was once a massive presence in the rocketry field, in his final days Parsons was forced to work at a gas station on night shifts to have some extra income. He also worked on Hollywood movie sets as a consultant when dealing with explosives, and on June 17th, 1952, he was doing just that when a chemical slipped his grasp and exploded, rendering him unconscious. He later succumbed to his injuries in hospital. He was only 37 years old. Upon hearing of her son's death, Parsons' mother committed suicide by overdosing on pills just hours after Parsons' death.
The legacy of Jack Parsons is extremely complicated; those involved in the NASA JPL project today refuse to talk about him. Parsons credited his significant accomplishments in the aeronautical field to the cult, and this was looked at as an embarrassment for the rest of those in that field. However, there is no denying that he was indeed the father of modern rocketry, so much so that the US government couldn't match the rockets that he could produce. The advancement of solid and liquid fuel rockets wouldn't be where it is today without his contributions, and he propelled what was once a fantasy by many during his time into a reality that we all know.
At the end of the day, Parsons' contributions as a pioneer to the aeronautical field will always be completely overshadowed by his favorite pastimes.