Jack Parsons was an American rocket propulsion engineer, chemist, and Thelemite occultist. A pioneer in solid-fuel rocket research and development, he was affiliated with Caltech and was one of the principal founders of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
Parsons developed an early interest in rocketry inspired by science fiction literature, becoming a fervent enthusiast in amateur experimental rocketry. In 1939 [he and friend Frank Malina] gained funding from the National Academy of Sciences to work on Jet-Assisted Take Off (JATO) for the U.S. military, renaming themselves the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
After a brief involvement in Marxism, in 1939 Parsons converted to the English occultist Aleister Crowley’s new religious movement, Thelema. At Crowley’s bidding, Parsons took over the position of lodge leader, operating it from his manor home—nicknamed “the Parsonage” in Pasadena.
With L. Ron Hubbard he began the Babalon Working, designed to invoke the Thelemic goddess Babalon to Earth, continuing the procedure with his wife Marjorie Cameron. After Hubbard stole his life savings, Parsons sold the Parsonage and went through various menial jobs, while consulting on working for Israel’s rocket program.
In 1952, Parsons died in an explosion at his home; police ruled it an accidental death, but a number of his associates suspected suicide or murder.
Parsons’ occult efforts ran into a number of issues, though, even aside from the complications brought on by conflicting relationships with his wife and her younger sister.
The Pasadena police department and the FBI began investigating Parsons’ lodge after charges of black magic and orgies, but while Parsons would eventually lose his security clearance after charges of espionage and communist sympathies, the investigation chalked up Parsons as harmless.
Parsons’ now ex-wife’s sister, whom he had taken up with, became enamored of L. Ron Hubbard and turned her attentions to him, much to Parsons’ displeasure.
It’s definitely worth reading up on the whole story of Parsons’ efforts and ultimate end. It is a fascinating study in the juxtaposition of public and private personas.