October 2, 2010
If anyone could locate the missing link between science and alchemy it would have been JACK PARSONS (Marvel Whiteside Parsons, 1914-52). A self-taught chemist with an Errol Flynn moustache, Parsons’ DIY approach to rocket science propelled both guided missiles and the eventual space race. Building on Robert Goddard’s early experiments with liquid fuel, he developed solid fuel propulsion, which allowed much heavier rockets to take off and stay on target — and paved the way for human cargo. Parsons helped found the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which later aligned with NASA. But all science and no fiction would have made Jack a dull boy. Parsons’ passion for experimentation led him to Aleister Crowley’s Ordo Templi Orientis, where he became the head of its Agape lodge in Los Angeles. There, to the mounting disapproval of Crowley himself, Parsons enlisted a pre-Scientology L. Ron Hubbard to perform increasingly DIY-style occult rituals. Hubbard brought the proceedings back down to earth by making off with Parsons’ sister-in-law (and then-mistress) and a fair amount of money. Continuing on with performance artist Marjorie Cameron, Parsons pronounced her to be the mythical Scarlet Woman before making her his second wife. His independence and unconventionality led him to establish a home laboratory in that favorite location of California techies, the garage — where a final uncontrolled explosion launched Parsons not to outer space, but beyond. A crater is named for him, appropriately enough, on the dark side of the moon.
On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: A.E. Waite.
READ MORE about men and women born on the cusp between the Partisans (1904-13) and the New Gods (1914-52) generations.
READ MORE HiLo Hero shout-outs.
What do you think?
Jack Parsons shared a birthday with AE Waite?
Interesting character. Even if he did go mad and declare himself the Antichrist, at least he looked cool while doing it.
The life and death of Jack Parsons has fascinated me for more than a decade. I first read about him in the L. Ron Hubbard bio BARE-FACED MESSIAH. The description of the strange magickal rituals Parsons and Hubbard enacted in the Mojave Desert eventually morphed into a crucial subplot of my supernatural thriller SO DARK THE NIGHT. It’s weird and wacky stuff…and all the more intriguing when one realizes it’s supposedly “true”…
I also recommend John Carter’s “Sex and Rockets: The Occult World of Jack Parsons” for a fascinating book-length biography of Parsons, as well as Craig Baldwin’s film “Mock Up on Mu,” which tells Parsons’ story through a blend of true story and L. Ron Hubbard’s science fiction (both early and late).
George Pendle’s more recent bio of Parsons, STRANGE ANGEL: THE OTHERWORLDLY LIFE OF ROCKET SCIENTIST JOHN WHITESIDE PARSONS (Mariner Books; 2006), is also very good.
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