Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Jack Parsons: Science and Magic

There sure has been a lot of news from NASA over the past few months.

What with the Curiosity rover actually making it to Mars and surviving its "9 minutes of terror" or whatever the amount of time they billed it as.  Just today, NASA announced that Curiosity had performed its first scooping of soil and discovered a "bright, shiny object" on the ground that as yet remains unidentified.  Let the speculations commence.

While Curiosity is progress, even though I personally think we should be doing more, the news has jogged my mental files and caused me to recall one of NASA's most compelling...and strange...characters: Jack Parsons.

No, not that guy from The Big Bang Theory.

Jack Parsons did not work for NASA itself but rather did research during the agency's incipient, forerunner years.  At Caltech in the 1940s, Parsons researched rocket propulsion.  Yes, he was someone you could actually call a "rocket scientist."  In fact, it was Parson's knowledge of chemistry and his work on solid fuel that made later rockets a possibility for the space program and the military.  Parsons was also a founding member of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, an entity that would later belong to NASA. There are those that claim that the organization's name was always a front and that the initials JPL really stood for "Jack Parsons Lab."

Here's the rub, however.  The fact that he was a scientist and made significant contributions to space travel would have been interesting enough.  But the strange story of Jack Parsons goes further than just that dimension.

Parsons was deeply involved in the occult.  So much so that he was a devotee of British mystic and occultist Aleister Crowley.  In time, Crowley even made Parsons the leader of the American branch of Crowley's mystic lodge, Order Templi Orientis. Among one of the more eyebrow raising of Parson's occult activities was his attempt at conceiving a "Moonchild" with his girlfriend through a sex magic ritual.  No child came about from this union.

As I said, all of this is more than sufficient to make Parsons an interesting character, but Parsons was also a science fiction fan and hung around with a few of the genre's more luminary figures.  Robert Heinlein was a friend, as was L. Ron Hubbard.  Although Hubbard was not much of a "friend" for long as he absconded by sea with a great deal of Parsons' money...and his girlfriend.  According to the book Sex and Rockets by John Carter, Parsons was said to have returned to his Florida hotel room after the Hubbard betrayal in order to conjure a typhoon via an invocation of Bartzebel, an entity that also supposedly rules over Mars.  This storm was to be sent smite Hubbard in is escape boat.

Oddly enough, a storm did arise at sea, one that shredded the sails of Hubbard's boat and forced him back to a Florida port. The results of Parsons' incantations?  Or does it have more to do with that region being especially prone to squalls at a moment's notice?  You decide.

Sadly, the life of Jack Parsons was cut short in 1952 at the mere age of 37.  While in his home laboratory, Parsons was killed by an explosion of fulminate mercury.  Many have disputed the circumstances of the detonation, intimating that Parsons' death was in actuality a murder, but nothing has surfaced to alter the official story.  Makes sense.  There were probably enough volatile chemicals in the lab to cause an explosion from multiple sources.  It just happened to be the mercury. 

A tragic end but it just seems to...I don't know...fit.  I wish I could have created a character like Jack Parsons.

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