On June 17, 1952, a science experiment gone wrong resulted in the death of John “Jack” Whiteside Parsons, the father of modern rocketry. Without him, Neil Armstrong might not have walked on the moon and the American military might never have become as powerful as it is today. But thanks to a CBS All Access series starring Jack Reynor called Strange Angel, we also learn that Parsons was the leader of a black-magic sex cult, of which Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard was once a member. The show is based on a book of the same name by author and journalist George Pendle, who discovered Parsons while researching an avant-garde filmmaker, Kenneth Anger, back in 2002. He was intrigued and dug deeper into Parsons’ life.
Parsons was one of the founders of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, or JPL, at Caltech, where the first rocket experiments were conducted in 1936. Parsons believed that rocketry could be a boon to mankind.
He also believed that he could summon mystical beings to Earth using explosions and magical rituals. As a kid growing up in Pasadena, California, Parsons was obsessed with traveling to the moon. He then discovered explosives, and as a 12-year-old, would scrape the black powder from fireworks and fashion rudimentary rockets. As an adult, he joined the Ordo Templi Orientis, a religious secret society led by Aleister Crowley, which Parsons viewed as offering similar things that rocketry did, like pushing mankind to a greater level.
“I really hope that his science and occultism will be brought out of the shadows,” Pendle said, according to the New York Post. “That he’ll be seen as this fascinating American figure that pulled himself up by his own bootstraps, created a whole new science, discovered his own path and lived the life he wanted to lead.”
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