Friday, November 14, 2014

Jack Parsons Miniseries in the Works

Director Ridley Scott is slated to produce a new miniseries on the life of rocket scientist and occultist Jack Parsons for the AMC television network. The miniseries will be based on the biography Strange Angel by George Pendle. Parsons was one of the founders of Pasadena's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and among other innovations developed the solid rocket fuel used in boosters for the space shuttle until the program ended in 2011. He was also a Thelemite, a practicing occultist, and a member of Agape Lodge, at the time the only surviving body of Ordo Templi Orientis in the world.

Jack Parsons, born into Pasadena wealth in 1914, began experimenting with explosives at a young age. Although he never graduated college, his self-taught proficiency with incendiary devices led to both his working at an explosives factory and appearing as an expert witness. The conviction of a Los Angeles police captain for the 1937 car bombing of a private investigator relied largely on Parsons's forensics testimony.

Parsons championed the then derided idea of rocketry. After establishing an off-hours collaboration at Caltech, Parsons worked to create liquid fueled rockets which he launched from Pasadena's Arroyo Seco. The group won a wartime government contract to invent jet assisted take off (JATO), which would enable airplanes to launch from aircraft carriers using shorter runways. Parsons's creation of a solid fueled engine with uniform burn properties was key to the project's success. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory was established in the Arroyo shortly thereafter.

While Parsons as the passionate outsider driving technological advancement is in itself a compelling story, the plot twists of his personal life make it truly fascinating. As was the case for many intellectuals in the 1930's Parsons frequented communist gatherings, though he never joined the Party. His quest for alternative viewpoints led him to attend a Gnostic Mass at Hollywood's Agape Lodge of the Ordo Templi Orientis, run by followers of Aleister Crowley. Parsons came to join and eventually lead the Lodge.

Parsons died in 1952 in a laboratory explosion that was either the result of an accident or deliberate sabotage, depending on who you ask. The television series Mythbusters tested the official theory, that the explosion was caused by a dropped vial of fulminate of mercury, and found that dropping or even throwing a vial to the ground would not set it off. However, a chemist I spoke with after I put up that post told me that there are numerous other ways in which the explosion could have been accidentally triggered.

Parsons' contributions to the American space program were highly regarded by his peers, but perhaps because of his occult interests he has not received much of the recognition that he deserves. Hopefully increased exposure from Scott's miniseries will remedy at least some of that.

Technorati Digg This Stumble Stumble

No comments: