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« Helping Out | Main | A Disappointment To Michael Moore »

Occult Rocketry

Ken Silber has a review of a new biography of what is probably the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's strangest founder.

I don't recall reading much about him in the history of JPL. I only recall Malina (who was a little...different... himself), and Tsien Hsue-Shen, who was later hounded out of the country, after which he returned to his native China and helped develop their missile program.

Posted by Rand Simberg at March 01, 2005 09:56 AM
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Mad Genius
Excerpt: Jack Parsons was one of the founding members of the famous Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Prior to WWII, he was part of a group researching rocket propulsion. Parsons, moreover, came up with the first "castable" rocket fuel (so called because...
Weblog: Rocket Jones
Tracked: March 7, 2005 03:23 AM

Yup, my advisor occupies Tsien's old office. Frank Marble has the office next door and is still around from time to time.

If Malina or Parsons saw the place now they would probably say it's just as they remember it - even the pictures on the walls are from their era, but faded now.

Another thing that's unchanged is how the mainstream look down upon propulsion research. People in related fields have always known in their heart of hearts that there are no further advances to be made.

The propeller folks knew that jet engines are a fundamentally flawed idea, and even high school students were able to understand that rockets can't work in a vacuum. Today, everybody knows that chemical rockets are all that will ever be used to put stuff in space.

There's nobody as colorful as Parsons around any more. And there's no Theodore Von Karman hounding the Air Force and pushing new ideas like nuclear thermal rockets. All that's left is his books, some of which I inherited from a previous occupant of my office.

As for JPL... they changed paths. And the rocket side whithered. Robotic exploration flourished, but if they had carried on with rockets and propulsion I can't help but wonder whether or not space exploration would be much further along by now, with nuclear rockets or some other scheme ferrying supplies from the Earth to help sustain communities beyond.

Posted by Kevin Parkin at March 1, 2005 01:34 PM

Tsien story

I read the link provided and also cruised over to and read the bit there.

Astronautix has this...

"...On the other hand, Tsien was revolted by the corruption of the Chinese nationalists, faced racial discrimination in the United States, and constantly vacillated in his desire to return to his homeland. He, like other Chinese scientists in the United States, began to receive letters from their relatives indicating that hardships awaited them unless their expatriate son returned to the motherland..."

And this...

"...He was a dedicated Communist who's technical advice on agriculture contributed to the death of millions during the Great Leap Forward in 1958. He met Mao six times and tutored him personally in 1964. He survived the Cultural Revolution of 1968 and supported the Tienamen Massacre in 1989..."

So what's the whole story? Was Tsien just a victim of false accusations and McCarthyist hysteria? Or was Tsien really a communist and a real security risk?

Posted by Brad at March 1, 2005 11:56 PM

Speaking of McCarthyism how about Mccarthyism 101?

Get this, a web link to a class "The Anti-Communist Crusade and the Rise of McCarthyism"

Aside from the references to such highly regarded sources as Zinn's "A People's History of the United States", I found this gem among the class notes...

---After World War II, President Truman and United States was determined to stand up the the Soviet Union, believing that America had won the right to be the political, economic, and military leader of the world. Because the Soviets refused to recognize our leadership and challenged our efforts to reconstruct the global economy and society after World War II, the United States began a Cold War struggle to reduce Soviet power and influence. In order to convince Americans that the United States should engage in this global struggle with the Soviets, President Truman was told by advisors that he should "scare the hell out of the country."---

Yep, those evil capitalists and their puppet Truman scaremongered the American people into obstructing good 'ol uncle Joe Stalin from spreading peace and love through the world!! Yep, there is no substitute for a solid college education now is there?

Posted by Brad at March 2, 2005 12:25 AM

Jack Parsons sounds like he belongs in That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis.

Posted by Joseph Hertzlinger at March 2, 2005 02:51 PM

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