New rocketry history “Escape From Earth” offers a fresh look at Frank Malina, Jack Parsons

“The long-buried truth about the dawn of the Space Age: lies, spies, socialism, and sex magick.”
If you’re jonesing for more Jack Parsons beyond the usual suspects—Strange Angel, Sex and Rockets and Songs for the Witch Woman—then you may want to check out Fraser MacDonald’s latest, Escape from Earth: A Secret History of the Space Rocket. While it appears to focus on Jack’s rocketry buddy Frank Malina, there’s plenty of Parsons and Crowley in this book, too (e.g., chapter 7 is titled “The Way of the Beast”).
The reviewer with Engineering & Technology rightly points out that this story isn’t nearly as unknown or secret as the PR makes it out to be, but they acknowledge the author—who  lectures on the history of science at Edinburgh University—has done their homework. The review concludes about the book, “Ultimately, if you like your rocketry garnished with a side order of sex and questionable relationships and smothered in a sauce of shadowy federal agents and McCarthyism, this is the book for you.”
From the publisher’s website:

ESCAPE FROM EARTH is the untold story of the engineers, dreamers and rebels who started the American space programme. In particular, it is the story of Frank Malina, founder of what became Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the scientist who cracked the, as he called it, problem of escape from the Earth by rocket.

It’s a wild ride. Jack Parsons, Malina’s chemistry-expert research partner, was a bed-hopping occultist with delusions of grandeur. We get all the horrible details: drug parties and sex magic, cameos by Aleister Crowley and L Ron Hubbard, and an ill-fated attempt to start a mail-order religion.

Armed with hitherto unpublished letters, journals, and documents from the Malina family archives, Fraser MacDonald reveals what we didn’t know. Jack Parsons betrayed Frank Malina to the FBI, cooperating fully in their investigation of Malina for un-American activities. The Jet Propulsion Lab’s second director secretly denounced Frank as a Communist. Frank’s research group had close ties to the spy network of the infamous Rosenbergs – the only Americans executed during the Red Scare. This is a story of soaring ideals entangled in the most human of complications: infidelity and divorce, betrayal and treason.

Escape from Earth is available in hardcover (384 pages) and eBook. It is published in the UK through Profile Books, and in the US through PublicAffairs. (I prefer the eBook cover, top, myself.) You can preview the book at the publishers’ websites, as well as at Amazon. An excerpt has also been published at Literary Hub.

Richard Kaczynski

Richard Kaczynski is the author of the biography Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley (2002; rev exp ed 2010), the history Forgotten Templars: The Untold Origins of Ordo Templi Orientis (2012), the novel The Billionth Monkey (2015), Panic in Detroit: The Magician and the Motor City (2019), along with a bunch of other books, articles, and chapters that you can read about at his website,

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