Thursday, August 5, 2010

Mystery History -- Solved!


Last week I promised to go easier on you, and this week I did! So much so that Dianne nailed it right off the bat with her 10:13 a.m. Tuesday guess "That's my Jack Parsons in the Arroyo getting ready to do the test."

In the photo above, John Whiteside "Jack" Parsons stands in the upper Arroyo Seco on Nov. 15, 1936, with an experimental rocket motor.

Here's a photo of one of the motor tests on Nov. 28, 1936:


Parsons was born to wealth and privilege in Pasadena. From an early age he was a gifted chemist, self-taught explosives expert and had an obsession with the occult.

Parsons teamed up with aeronautical engineer Frank Malina and machinist Ed Forman to test a rocket motor they had thrown together from spare engine parts. After several unsuccessful attempts over the course of four days, the oxygen line unexpectedly ignited and started shooting fire, and the rest is history. Jet Propulsion Laboratory credits these early rocket motors as eventually evolving into the tools of spacecraft.

JPL has a nice little video on its website about these early days.

Here's a photo of Parsons (front right), Forman (back right) and Malina (third from left) along with students Rudolph Schott (far left) and Apollo Milton Olin Smith.



Theodore von Karman credited Jack Parsons's work in solid fuel research with making Polaris and Minuteman possible.

Parsons was only 38 years old on June 17, 1952, when an experiment in his home laboratory went bad and the whole place blew up. He died a few hours later.

Here's an L.A. Times photo showing a Pasadena police officer examining the post-blast rubble.



Rocket fuel from early testing seeped into some City of Pasadena water wells over several years, causing some of them to be closed off. In March 2009, Pasadena Water and Power began construction of the Monk Hill Groundwater Treatment Plant at the Windsor Reservoir near JPL. The new plant will remove perchlorate and volatile organic compounds from four deep wells in that area. It's a collaboration between the City of Pasadena and NASA, and is scheduled for completion this coming fall, when it will be able to treat 7,000 gallons of groundwater per minute, meet all regulatory stands and restore another source of safe drinking water to Pasadena.

Many thanks to JPL for the historic photos.

7 comments:

Bellis said...

You always have so much interesting information. I'd like to see more photos of the Arroyo when the Suicide Squad were there - are they in the Pasadena City library?

By the way, Jack Parsons died in a house on Orange Grove that's now part of a condo complex.

pasadenapio said...

The photos that accompany this posting (with the exception of the newspaper photo) were provided by JPL, which has a large collection.

Kat said...

Is Parsons the company named after Jack Parsons? Just out of curiosity...

pasadenapio said...

Parsons, the largest civil engineering firm in the world with its corporate headquarters in Pasadena, was founded by Ralph M. Parsons. I haven't seen any information showing they were related.

If anybody out there can cite a reliable source that shows otherwise, please let me know.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

Is the bottom photo the after effects of blowing up his house?

Congratulations Dianne

pasadenapio said...

Yes, post-kaboom.

Petrea said...

I believe I read that the two Parsons are not related, but I can't tell you where I read it. Not helpful, sorry.