Today’s article follows on from my previous article on Jack Parsons and his attempts to create a homunculus. It demonstrates just how important and how revered Parsons really was – and in the world of government, no less. Of its Jet Propulsion Laboratory – based in Pasadena, California – the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA, says: “JPL grew up with the Space Age and helped bring it into being. It is a place where science, technology, and engineering intermix in unique ways: to produce iconic robotic space explorers sent to every corner of the solar system, to peer deep into the Milky Way galaxy and beyond, and to keep a watchful eye on our home planet. Analyzing the data pouring back from these machine emissaries, scientists around the world continue to discover how the universe, the solar system, and life formed and evolved.”
NASA continues: “JPL’s beginnings can be traced to the mid-1930s, when a few Caltech students and amateur rocket enthusiasts started tinkering with rockets. After an unintended explosion occurred on campus, the group and its experiments relocated to an isolated area next to the San Gabriel Mountains, the present-day site of JPL. In the following decade, as an anxious country sought to respond to the menacing challenge of German V-2 rockets, the fledgling Jet Propulsion Laboratory (officially named in 1944, some 14 years before NASA was formed) was sponsored by the U.S. Army to develop rocket technology and the Corporal and Sergeant missile-systems.”
Among those “students and amateur rocket enthusiasts” who “started tinkering with rockets,” was Marvel Whiteside Parsons. He was better known as Jack Parsons, of course. Not only was Parsons an expert in rocketry; he also ran Aleister Crowley’s Agape Lodge of the Thelemic Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.) in California. It’s notable that Parsons’ company, the Aerojet Corporation, made the kinds of solid-fuel rocket boosters that eventually led to the creation of the rocket boosters that took NASA’s Space Shuttle fleet to the heavens. Parsons even has a crater named after him on the surface of the Moon. But, that’s not all. On every Halloween, the staff of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory perform an intriguing ritual – in Parsons’ honor. Halloween takes its name from All Hallows’ Eve, a term first used in the 1500s.
That Halloween is tied to All Saints Day (which is celebrated on November 1, one day after Halloween) had led to an understandable assumption that Halloween has Christian-based origins. It does not. There’s no doubt that the ancient, Gaelic festival of Samhain played a significant role in the development of Halloween. Pagan rites and druidic rituals were part and parcel of the way in which Halloween came to be, too. It is, therefore, very intriguing that the staff of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory embraces the world’s creepiest night – and its attendant ties to paganism and the world of the druids – by paying homage to Jack Parsons. They do so in a very strange fashion.
Mannequins – dressed in white lab-style coats and designed to represent Parsons and his colleagues in the early years of rocketry – are wheeled into the JPL. The staff holds nothing less than a memorial to the man and his ground-breaking work. Within the world of the JPL, the joke is that those three-letters actually stand for “Jack Parsons Lives.” As all of this demonstrates, Jack Parsons was an almost unique figure, someone who in many respects changed the course of history – and rocketry – in the 1940s. Had he not come to a terrible end in 1952, there’s no doubt that Parsons would have continued with his groundbreaking and growing work. Who knows what advances he would have made had fate not intervened in just about the worst way possible? Unfortunately, we will never know the answer to that controversial question.