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Jack Parsons, an explosives expert [???], pioneer in rocket propulsion [???], and follower of the thelemic magic of Aleister Crowley (1875-1947), was born Marvel Whiteside Parsons, the son of Marvel and Ruth Whiteside Parsons in Los Angeles, California, on October 2, 1914. Shortly after his birth, his parents separated, and his mother raised him as John Parsons. His friends and magical associates would know him as Jack.

During his teen years he developed an interest in rocketry and explosives, and carried out a number of amateur experiments. In 1932, while still in high school, he landed a job with the Hercules Powder Company. He graduated the following year and entered Pasadena Junior College and then spent two years at the University of Southern California, though he never graduated. In 1935 he married Helen Northrup and shortly thereafter left school to take a job at the California Institute of Technology, even though he lacked the formal training that such a job usually required. He took the lead in the development of liquid-fuel propellants, and made a secure place for himself in the history of rocket science. [???]

In 1939 Parsons discovered a book by Crowley and then met Winifred Smith, a resident of Pasadena, who also led what was then the only active chapter of Crowley's organization, the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO), then in existence. Thus began his double life, rocket scientist by day and magical student by night. In 1941 he and his wife both formally joined the OTO. From that time forward he would be the occasional object of surveillance by law enforcement officials who were concerned with his keeping explosive materials at his home. Also, neighbors and some who had attended various events at Parsons' home reported that he was engaged in immoral actions and black magic. As a whole, the police discounted them. In 1943, Parsons and his wife divorced, and he began a relationship with Helen's sister Sara Elizabeth "Betty" Northrup.

In the months immediately after World War II (1939-45), Parsons began a set of independent magical operations that would become known collectively as the Babalon Workings. These workings brought him into contact with a preternatural entity and also coincided with another shift in his personal relations. Betty was attracted to a new friend of Parsons', L. Ron Hubbard. Soon after the workings began, Marjorie Cameron came to Pasadena, and Parsons introduced her to magic work. They would eventually marry.

The results of the Babalon Workings were manifold. Parsons channeled a document, "Liber 49," which he came to believe was a fourth chapter to Crowley's basic magic text, The Book of the Law. As the workings became more involved, Crowley, then living out his last years in England, became concerned and sent a representative to examine the situation with the Pasadena OTO. Parsons formed a company with Hubbard and Betty to purchase boats on the East Coast and transport them to California. This company failed after Parsons and Hubbard had a disagreement and the assets were divided in a court settlement. Hubbard would later go on to found the Church of Scientology.

Parsons went through a period of disillusionment with magic and the OTO and resigned. He became convinced that the organization had proven itself an obstacle to reach its own magical goals. He began to work his magic outside of the OTO system. In 1948 he lost his security clearance at the California Institute of Technology. It was reinstated the following year, but in January of 1952, he lost it again. His involvement in magic was the stated reason for his lost status. Then on June 17, 1952, Parsons died when his home was destroyed in an explosion. The exact nature of what occurred has never been satisfactorily explained. His mother committed suicide after hearing of his death.

Parsons was a minor figure in the magical world at the time of his death. However, in the wake of the revival of interest in Crowley and magic in the 1970s, his work was rediscovered and in the early 1980s published. It has remained in print and been reproduced widely on the Internet. A first biography appeared in 1999.


[Carter, John.] Sex and Rockets: The Occult World of Jack Parsons. Venice, Calif.: Feral House, 1999.

Parsons, Jack. The Book of AntiChrist. Edmonton: Isis Research, 1980.

——. The Book of B.A.B.A.L.O.N. Berkeley, Calif.: O.T.O., 1982.

——. Freedom Is a Two Edged Sword, and Other Essays. Edited by Marjorie Cameron Parsons Kimmel and Hymanaeus Beta. New York: Ordo Templi Orientis, 1989.

Life as Satanist Propelled Rocketeer

Sunday, 19 March 2000

Los Angeles Times

I height [sic] Don Quixote, I live on peyote,
marijuana, morphine and cocaine.
I never knew sadness,
but only a madness that
burns at the heart and the brain.
--John Whiteside Parsons

He was an unorthodox genius [???], a poet [???] and rocket scientist [???] who helped give birth to an institution that would become mankind's window on the universe.

He was also a devotee of the black arts, a sci-fi junkie and host of backyard orgies on Pasadena's stately Millionaires' Row.

John "Jack" Whiteside Parsons, a founder of the legendary Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a maverick visionary [???] honored with a moon crater bearing his name, gave no early hint of the inner stirrings that propelled him to worship the devil and lead an extraordinary double life: respected scientist by day [???], dedicated occultist by night.

Over a little more than a decade, the tall and vainly handsome Parsons skillfully twinned his two existences as rocketeer and antichrist leader of the occult Ordo Templi Orientis.

His mysterious death in an explosion in 1952 left many wondering whether Parsons was a victim of murder or suicide -- or simply of an accident at his own momentarily careless hands [???].

Born Marvel Whiteside Parsons in 1914, he was a mama's boy who hated authority and detested social mores. He was reared by his aging, wealthy grandparents and his mother, Ruth. Embittered by her adulterous husband, also named Marvel, who abandoned his family, Ruth began calling her son John.

Young John found his companions in poetry, which he read the way other boys read comic books. He also gulped down the space and sci-fi fantasies of Jules Verne. He and his childhood pal, the mechanically gifted Ed Forman, tinkered with black-powder rockets and pocked their backyards with craters.

Parsons was at USC when word of Caltech graduate student Frank Malina's project on rocket propulsion and high-altitude rockets reached him and Forman. The young duo brazenly offered to help. Even though neither youth had a degree, Theodore von Karman, the director of Caltech's Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory and one of the world's leading scientists, took them up on their offer.

Unencumbered  by academic knowledge [???], Parsons was a cookbook chemist obsessed with things that go bang, while Forman helped turn designs into hardware. On Halloween 1936, the rocketeers dug trenches and piled up sandbags in the Arroyo Seco and attempted to test a rocket motor they had built. Fueled with a brew of gaseous oxygen and methyl alcohol, the motor burned for three seconds.

This inauspicious beginning marked the start of rocketry in California [???] at a time when America still saw space exploration as pulp fiction. The test site in the Arroyo Seco later became JPL.

Von Karman allocated campus lab space to the rocketry project. But after two lab explosions, the group -- by then dubbed the "Suicide Squad" -- was kicked off campus and headed back to the Arroyo Seco.

Parsons' new fame as Caltech's best explosives expert [???] took him to the courtroom as an expert witness. In 1938, he testified against Los Angeles Police Department Lt. Earl Kynette, a mayoral crony accused in the car bombing of an ex-LAPD detective-turned-private eye.

Parsons earned his bread and butter working on a jet-assisted takeoff unit that developed into a solid-fuel rocket that would help win World War II.

Early in the war, in 1942, Parsons and his wife, Helen, moved into an aging Pasadena mansion. The house on South Orange Grove Boulevard was next door to the former estate of beer baron Adolphus Busch with its famous gardens.

But Millionaires' Row had never seen anything like Parsons and his friends.

Parsons converted the rooms into 19 apartments, and invited in an odd mix of Bohemian artists, writers, scientists and occultists. The residents mockingly named the place "the Parsonage," for it was anything but.

Before dropping out of USC, the poetry-loving Parsons had cultivated an interest in the writings of Aleister Crowley, the English sorcerer and Satanist who called himself "Beast 666" and "the wickedest man in the world."

Soon the house on South Orange Grove was a laboratory of another sort -- for black magic.

In 1944, Parsons resigned from JPL in favor of whizzing through time and space via peyote, mescaline, marijuana, opiates and hallucinogens.

Soon, the marriage began to unravel. Helen became pregnant by another member of the Parsonage circle, and Parsons took up with Helen's beautiful 18-year-old sister, Sara Northrup, before divorcing Helen.

Mutual curiosity about the mind's power led Parsons into a friendship in 1946 with L. Ron Hubbard, the future founder of Scientology. Hubbard moved into the house and later married Sara, Parsons' lover and sister-in-law, before divorcing his first wife.

According to "Sex and Rockets: The Occult World of Jack Parsons," a new book by John Carter (a pseudonym), Hubbard chanted incantations while Parsons and his new lover, Marjorie Cameron, tried to produce a "moon child," a "magical child" with superior intellect and powers whose birth would occur on the astral plane, not the physical one.

The ceremony was to span 12 consecutive nights. But when rituals called for a naked pregnant woman to jump nine times through fire to ensure a safe delivery, the neighbors began protesting. The police looked into the matter, but nothing came of their investigation.

Parsons and Hubbard, who had united to take on Christianity, fell out over more trivial matters. Carter writes that the two argued over a sailboat venture that ended in a court dispute.

Disillusioned with Hubbard, Parsons resigned from the Ordo Templi Orientis, married Cameron and began exploring the unknown on his own. After one reputed out-of-body experience, he acquired the name "Belarion Armiluss Al Dajjal, antichrist."

But even the antichrist had to eat. Low on funds, he worked for various local aviation companies, including Hughes Aircraft, and bootlegged nitroglycerin.

It was after he left the mansion and moved with his wife into a rented room over the garage at the Cruikshank Estate on South Orange Grove that life began to unravel.

The FBI was investigating him on suspicion of espionage, consorting with communists, including some allegedly at Caltech, and cult activities; the scrutiny cost Parsons his government security clearance.

In June 1952, while his wife shopped for groceries for a planned vacation to Mexico, Parsons mixed chemicals from his arsenal of illegal explosives.

Police reports say the explosives expert [???] dropped the concoction of fulminate of mercury. A deadly blast that could be felt a mile away ripped through Parsons' garage lab, blowing off his right arm, breaking his other arm and both legs, and leaving a gaping hole in his jaw.

He died 45 minutes later. When his mother heard the news, she joined him in death, gulping down a bottle of sleeping pills.

Authorities concluded that his death was a drug-induced accident or suicide. His wife and others believed he was killed by the recently paroled Kynette, whom Parsons had helped put in prison.

To this day, there's a joke in the aerospace community that JPL stands for "Jack Parsons' Laboratory" or "Jack Parsons Lives." The Crater Parsons, named in his honor, happens to be on the moon's dark side.

Copyright 2000 Los Angeles Times

Jet Propulsion Laboratory


Early History

Seated left to right: Rudolph Schott, Apollo Milton Olin Smith, Frank Malina (white shirt, dark pants), Ed Forman and Jack Parsons (right, foreground). Nov. 15, 1936.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory's history reaches back to the tumultuous years leading up to World War II. Rockets were perceived as devices of fantasy, seen only in movie serials and comic strips like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. Despite rocket pioneer Robert Goddard’s successful development of early rockets, he was publicly ridiculed for his work. But in the fall of 1936, a group of enterprising young men in Pasadena, Calif., decided to risk their reputations and give engineering substance to rocket fantasy.

A test fire on Nov. 28, 1936, resulted in a 1.5 to 2 foot-long flame. However, the engineers would have to wait until January for a more successful test.

The "rocket boys" were an unusual bunch. Frank Malina was studying aerodynamics at Caltech's Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory, known as GALCIT. Jack Parsons was a self-taught chemist [???], and Ed Forman was an excellent mechanic. They scraped together cheap engine parts, and on Oct. 31, 1936, drove to an isolated area called the Arroyo Seco at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Four times that day they tried to test fire their small rocket motor. On the last attempt, they accidentally set fire to their oxygen line, which whipped around shooting fire! These were the first rocket experiments in the history of JPL. They tried again on Nov. 15, 1936, and their experiment finally worked.

The young rocketeers were encouraged by Caltech professor and aerodynamicist Theodore von Karman. After the mid-November tests, he secured space for them on the Caltech campus. He also insisted that the experimenters know the mathematics that described the performance of their rocket motors.

Over time, the inventors' explosive and noisy motors proved too dangerous for the campus. In 1940, a new facility -- across the Arroyo from the original test site -- was built in the foothills of Pasadena. Three test stands and tarpaper shacks marked the first buildings of what von Karman would name the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in November 1943. He would become JPL's first director.

In Feb. 1942, there were only a few small buildings and rocket motor test pits on JPL's present site.

The first substantial influx of money came from the United States Army Air Corps. The U.S. had not yet entered World War II, but the military wanted small rockets that could lift heavy aircraft off the ground. In August 1941, Frank Malina - one of the original "rocket boys" - headed a group that equipped an Ercoupe plane with rockets. The modified Ercoupe lifted off in half the normal distance. This method was named "Jet Assisted Take-Off," and the rockets were called JATOs.

The Ercoupe, a "rocket-assisted" airplane, takes off using a shorter runway than the plane still on the ground. Both planes started at the same position and time.

After the successful development of this rocket, and the United States' entry into World War II, the Army asked for other types of rockets. In 1944, JPL began to develop guided missiles. These differed from JPL's earlier rockets because they would have guidance systems to steer them toward their targets.

JPL's first completely successful test was achieved with the WAC Corporal, launched Oct. 11, 1945. The rocket reached an altitude of 70 kilometers (almost 44 miles), a record at the time. The Corporal missile system JPL developed for the Army used liquid fuels. Launching a Corporal was quite an event. The fuel, the missiles, the launch equipment and the guidance equipment had to be transported separately. This made for convoys with dozens of trucks. The launch itself took lots of people and many hours of preparation.

JPL simplified its last missile for the Army and called it the Sergeant. Sergeant used a solid fuel that was part of the missile, reducing the number of people and amount of time necessary to launch it. The earliest Sergeant tests were carried out at White Sands, New Mexico, in January 1956. In 1959, however, the Army transferred the project to an industrial contractor, the Sperry Corporation, with JPL maintaining a consulting role for many years.

July 1957 marked the beginning of the International Geophysical Year, when scientists around the world planned to jointly observe various scientific phenomena. It was during this period of scientific cooperation that the Soviet Union stunned the world with the launch of Sputnik, the first satellite ever. On October 4, 1957, the USSR put into orbit a tiny sphere with a radio transmitter that beeped its way into history. The JPL community was surprised that the Soviets could have both a successful launch vehicle and the electronic technology to operate the satellite.

The United States needed an immediate response. The first attempt, the Naval Research Lab's Vanguard project, failed. Their rocket exploded in full view of the press, embarrassing the nation.

JPL and the U.S. Army's Ballistic Missile Agency in Huntsville, Alabama, then pooled resources and knowledge. In about 80 days a four-stage rocket was assembled. JPL's canister-shaped Explorer 1 satellite formed the nose of the rocket.

A model of Explorer 1, held by JPL's Director William Pickering, scientist James Van Allen and rocket pioneer Wernher von Braun.

On January 31, 1958, Explorer 1 launched and became the first U.S. satellite, using its single instrument to send back data about the radiation environment high above Earth's surface.

This started the "space race" with the Soviet Union.

Motivated by Explorer 1's success, JPL Director William Pickering wanted to move into space exploration. He thought the relatively small, non-profit JPL could never raise the money necessary to remain on the leading edge of rocket technology as much larger aviation companies entered the rocketry business. He convinced the Army and President Eisenhower to make JPL part of the nation's new space agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. In that role, JPL, with its links to Caltech's science community, could lead in the creation of the new realm of space science. In December 1958, the Army formally transferred JPL to NASA, although it remained under Caltech management.

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