Jet Propulsion Laboratory – La Cañada Flintridge, California - Atlas Obscura

Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA's leading space science lab started by a co-founder with deep ties to the occult. 


On Halloween Day in 1936, a group of five young men known as the “rocket boys” gathered in the Arroyo Seco and attempted to test fire a self-built rocket motor there on the dusty flood plain. They failed, but the group from that day- including notorious occultist Jack Parsons – succeeded in November of the same year. This modest experiment would eventually lead to the formation of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and from there to the Apollo missions, the Space Shuttle, and the Mars rovers that now roam the surface of the red planet.

Located partly in La Canada Flintridge and Pasadena, California, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is best known for its groundbreaking technology and research in the fields of astronomy and physics. As a branch of NASA, it has been responsible for projects such as Explorer 1, the United States’ first satellite (which eventually led to the “space race” with the Soviet Union), and the creation of the Wide Field and Planetary Camera, the main image-capturing component of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

Today, JPL is responsible for many space science projects, such as the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn, the Mars Exploration Rovers, and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Though the facility has been a pioneer in space science since the late 1950s, its roots were in rocket technology.

Though the story of the Rocket Boys has become popular, what is less mentioned is that one of its founding members, Parsons, was a passionate occultist.

Jack Parsons, born as Marvel Whiteside Parsons, was born in 1914. Unlike the other Rocket Boys, Parsons skills were self-taught. Despite his lack of formal education Parsons demonstrated excellence in chemistry, and his work in solid fuel has paved the way for what space travel is today. Nevertheless, Parsons was a firm believer in both science and magick, and it is said that he invoked the Greek god Pan before every rocket test launch.

Parsons, a devoted Thelemite, was one of the earliest American devotees of Aleister Crowley, the notorious British occultist who was denounced by the popular press as “The Wickedest Man in the World.” In 1942, Crowley chose Parsons to lead the Agape Lodge of the secret society, Thelemic Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.), in California.

During this time Parsons performed a ritual known as Babylon Working, while his friend and Scientology founder, L. Ron Hubbard took notes. These rituals were a series of sexual magick ceremonies that, in effect, would produce a living Goddess who would help Parsons, playing the Anti-Christ, to change the course of history. It is said that after completing the first phase of Babylon Working, Parsons immediately met a woman, Marjorie Cameron, in his own home.

Parsons and Hubbard believed that Cameron was the living incarnation of the divine feminine Babylon, or the Scarlet Woman, who Crowley had often written about in his texts. Despite dating Sara Northrup at the time, Parsons began a series of sexual magick workings with Cameron in an attempt to conceive a Moonchild. Though a child was never conceived, Cameron and Parsons eventually married, and Hubbard ran away with Northrup.

Parsons died in 1952 from a freak mercury explosion in his home laboratory. He was a devoted pioneer in both fields of science and magick and saw no contradictions between the two. A crater on the far side of the moon is named Parsons in his honor, and his short text Book of Babylon or Liber 49, remains an influential addition to the Magickal Philosopy of Thelema.

Though many of Parsons’ science contemporaries refused to work with him due to his dark beliefs, his contribution to space science is irrefutable. Today, Jet Propulsion Laboratory is managed by Caltech and operates NASA’s Deep Space Network, a network of communications devices and facilities that supports interplanetary spacecraft missions. JPL’s Space Flight Operations Facility and Twenty-Five-Foot Space Simulator are designated National Historic Landmarks.

Additionally, the Laboratory advises many Hollywood studios on the scientific accuracy of their sci-fi productions.

JPL offers an annual open house, usually in May, call for details.

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